Tennessee fought off a late rally from South Carolina Saturday and managed to just hold on to a 5-4 victory.
The Gamecocks took an early 1-0 lead, like way early, as in first-pitch-of-the inning early, when leadoff hitter Brady Allen took Tennessee starter Blade Tidwell deep. But Tidwell settled in after that hiccup, and the Vols got another strong start from their freshman fire-baller.
Tidwell was fantastic against Arkansas last week — seven innings, two hits, two runs, eight Ks — and then held South Carolina to just one base hit over the next six innings following the solo HR he surrendered in the first.
The Vols tied the game in the second after Luc Lipscius got a hit and stole second when Pete Derkay drove Lipscius in one batter later.
Tennessee jumped on South Carolina starter Thomas Farr in the fourth inning. Evan Russell and Lipscius managed back-to-back base hits, and the Jordan Beck doubled to score Russell. Tennessee catcher Connor Pavolony smashed a three-run home run that gave the Vols and Tidwell a comfortable lead.
Tidwell had an overall strong outing, like last Sunday, but ran into trouble in the eighth inning just like last week, too. Tidwell gave up three straight base hits to kick off the eighth, two singles and a double that scored a run, before he was pulled for Sean Hunley. Hunley gave up two more runs but managed to get out of the inning with Tennessee still grasping to a 5-4 lead.
The Vol offense didn’t give Hunley anymore help, in fact, the bats recorded just one base hit in the game’s final five innings. Hunley gave up a lead-off double, but then struck out three-straight Gamecocks to secure the win for Tennessee.
Tennessee didn’t get the sweep after dropping Friday’s game 3-2, but it still managed to win another series on the road in the SEC. That’s pretty much never easy.
A few notes: The Vols got carried by the bottom half of their lineup today. If you follow me on Twitter, you know how much I mention Jordan Beck leading the team in home runs and RBIs while batting in the 7-hole. Today, batters 5-9 (Evan Russell, Luc Lipscius, Jordan Beck, Pete Derkay and Connor Pavolony) accounted for seven of Tennessee eight hits and all five of its runs.
I mentioned that Tidwell had an overall strong start even though he got into trouble in the eighth, ended up getting pulled and got tagged for the three runs he was responsible for when he exited the game. Prior to then, he’d given up just three hits and the one run on his first pitch. His fastball was mid-to-upper 90s again and he was locating his breaking pitch well.
So yes, he gave up four runs, but he also 1) got the win and 2) struck out six while walking just two. Tidwell’s made four-straight quality starts all against SEC opponents with his last poor outing coming against Texas A&M on April 25th.
Big picture: as of this writing, Tennessee sits a half-game back of Vanderbilt for the regular season SEC East title, and Vanderbilt is currently down 2-0 to Kentucky in the bottom of the second inning. So if Kentucky can hold on, Tennessee would win the regular season Eastern Division for the first time since 1995.