It took some time for No. 10 South Carolina to wake up its bats, but it did so in grand fashion in the latter stages of Friday night’s contest against Tennessee at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Back-to-back three spots in the seventh and eighth innings busted open a tie ballgame. The Gamecocks cruised from there for a 7-1 win in the opening weekend of Southeastern Conference baseball.
The Volunteers saw their three-game winning streak end and dropped to 12-3, 0-1.
“My thoughts about this team are no different,” Tennessee coach Dave Serrano said. “I just said this on the radio, I’m sure there are some skeptics out there saying, ‘Same ole Vols.’ We’re not the same ole Vols. We’ll come back and whether we win or lose tomorrow, I’m behind this team. I believe in this team, and we’re going to have success with this team.”
Jacob Olson led off the top of the third with a single for South Carolina (12-5). After a double by LT Tolbert and a walk issued to Danny Blair, TJ Hopkins plated Olson for a 1-0 upper hand.
That Gamecock advantage held up until the bottom of the sixth. Tennessee senior third baseman Jordan Rodgers blasted a leadoff double off the left-center field wall. Two batters later he came home on a single by freshman first baseman Andre Lipcius.
Tennessee starting pitcher Hunter Martin retired 11 in a row before Jonah Bride's one-out double in the seventh. That chased the Murfreesboro native from the game in favor of Garrett Stallings, who came on for his ninth appearance in his first 15 games of college baseball.
Madison Stokes greeted Stallings with a single before Jacob Olson followed with a no-doubt-about-it three-run home run to stake the Gamecocks to a 4-1 lead.
Chris Cullen’s home run over the left-field wall nudged the South Carolina advantage to 5-1. That caused Serrano to make another call the bullpen, bringing on sophomore Danny Vasquez. Madison Stokes’ double up the left-field line one-hopped the wall and brought Bride home. Then Tolbert contributed a run-scoring single.
Adam Hill (1-2) went six innings with five strikeouts, allowing six hits, three walks and one run.
Martin (3-2) was the losing pitcher. The book closed on him with seven Ks, six hits, two runs and one walk.
“I thought Hunter threw really good,” Serrano said. “I tip my hat to him. I thought he had a really good start for us tonight. We couldn’t stop the bleeding once it got started.”
It was the Tennessee bullpen's worst performance since a 10-9 win over UC Irvine back on Feb. 25. The pen had allowed just one run in 31 2/3 innings coming into Friday night.
South Carolina increased its all-time series lead over Tennessee to 59-36, including its fourth straight. Game 2 is Saturday in Knoxville at 2 Eastern. The Big Orange bats must get going against one of the top collegiate arms in the nation and Pigeon Forge (Tenn.) High School alum Wil Crow. The right-hander is 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 24 innings.
"He's a bulldog," Serrano said of Crowe. "I know Wil. I've watched him for three or four years. I'm well aware of Wil and our coaching staff is and some of our players are. He's going to be a bulldog, he's going to be tough to beat, but he's going to have to make quality pitches to be able to be successful off us just like we're going to have to make quality pitches against them tomorrow."