Vols win first SEC East title since 1997
COLUMBIA, S.C. (UT Athletics) – No. 4 Tennessee secured its first series victory in Columbia since 2006 with a 5-4 win over No. 15 South Carolina in Saturday’s rubber game at Founders Park.
The Vols led 5-1 entering the eighth but had to withstand a furious rally from the Gamecocks over the final two innings to hold on for the win, which secured a top-four seed in next week’s SEC Tournament.
The win was the 42nd of the season for Tennessee, marking its most regular-season victories since winning 43 in 1995.
Connor Pavolony’s three-run homer in the fourth inning proved to be the difference as the Vols held on for the win after South Carolina scored three runs in the eighth to cut its deficit to one.
Luc Lipcius capped off an impressive series with two hits, a walk and two runs scored while Evan Russell also finished with a pair of hits.
After allowing a home run in the first, Vols’ starter Blade Tidwell settled in and was fantastic over the next six innings before running into trouble in the eighth. The freshman right hander had six strikeouts and allowed four runs on six hits to earn the win and improve to 7-3 on the year.
Senior right hander Sean Hunley earned his second save of the series and seventh of the season with two shutout innings of relief. The Mount Juliet, Tennessee, native was able to get the Vols out of the eighth inning with the lead still intact and then struck out the final three batters of the game.
The Gamecocks jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first as leadoff man Brady Allen hit the first pitch he saw over the wall in left center for his second homer of the series.
The Vols evened things up with a run of their own in the top of the second thanks to a two-out RBI single by Pete Derkay to score Lipcius, who singled earlier in the inning and stole second to move into scoring position.
After a scoreless third inning, the Big Orange put up a four-spot in the fourth to take a 5-1 lead. They opened the inning with three straight hits, the last of which was an RBI double from Jordan Beck. Two batters later, Pavolony blasted a three-run homer to dead center field to put UT ahead by four.
After scoring three runs in the eighth, Jeff Heinrich led off the ninth with a double to put the tying run in scoring position, but Hunley responded by striking out Joe Satterfield, Allen and Andrew Eyster to strand Heinrich on second and end the game.
Tennessee (42-14 // 20-10 SEC) will head to Hoover next week as a top-four seed and will have a first-round bye. The Vols will play their first game in the tournament on Wednesday (time and opponent TBD).
VOLS SECURE TOP-FOUR SEED: With Saturday’s win, Tennessee locked up a top-four seed and a first round bye in next week’s SEC Tournament for the first time since 2005 (No. 3 seed). The Vols can finish no lower than the No. 3 seed, but still have a chance to be the No. 2 seed and win the SEC Eastern Division should Vanderbilt lose to Kentucky this afternoon. UT’s 20 SEC victories this season are its most since finishing with 22 conference wins in 1995.
SERIES WIN IN COLUMBIA: The Vols ended a lengthy streak of series losses in Columbia on Saturday. With its 5-4 win over the Gamecocks, Tennessee recorded its first road series win over South Carolina since 2006.
RUBBER GAME WINS: Saturday’s win was UT’s fifth in a winner-take-all rubber game this season with all five coming in conference play. The Vols are now 5-2 on the year in rubber games, including a perfect 4-0 record on the road.
ROAD WARRIORS: Tennessee finished the regular season with a perfect 6-0 record in road series this season, including winning all five of its SEC series away from home. Prior to this season, the Vols had never won five SEC road series in a single season. Their 16-5 road record this year was the best in the SEC.