KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — On Friday night, Tennessee played like a scrappy team with its back to the wall.
One night later, South Carolina knocked the Vols backward off the top of a wall — and it hurt.
The Vols squandered leads of 9-1 and 12-6 as the Gamecocks charged back for a 15-12 win at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on Saturday, wiping out the good vibes of Tennessee’s first-game victory.
It is a familiar scenario for the Vols (22-28, 8-18 SEC), whose dim hopes of rallying into the SEC tournament took a huge shot.
“Anytime you’re up 12-6 with two outs in the seventh at home, you feel like you’ve got a good chance to win,” Tennessee coach Todd Raleigh said.
South Carolina (31-19, 13-13) had other ideas.
The Gamecocks scored three runs in the seventh, two more in the eighth to whittle Tennessee’s lead to 12-11, then clobbered the Vols with a four-run outburst off Bryan Morgado (3-2) in the top of the ninth.
As if the Gamecocks’ 14 hits were not enough, Tennessee pitchers walked seven and hit three batters.
“You can’t do that,” Raleigh said. “It’s what we do it seems like two out of three games every weekend. How do you make no errors, score 12 runs and lose?
“We didn’t pitch enough to win.”
Lost in the collapse was a big night for third baseman Tyler Horne, who hit two home runs — one a grand slam — and drove in seven runs.
Meanwhile, USC got a lot of Bangs for the buck from one versatile player. Parker Bangs, the designated hitter, hit a three-run homer off Will Locante in the seventh to cut the deficit to 12-9.
Then Bangs (2-2) took the mound and struck out all six batters he faced in the seventh and eighth innings.
Finally, he started the game-winning rally in the top of the ninth with a single.
Whit Merrifield’s fifth hit of the game, a double, drove in the tying run, then DeAngelo Mack smashed a two-run single off second baseman Cody Grisham’s glove to make it 14-12.
The Gamecocks added another run before Alex Farotto came on in the ninth to get the save, forcing P.J. Polk into a game-ending double play.
Tennessee struck for a 2-0 lead in its first at-bat when Kentrail Davis smacked a two-out double ahead of Blake Forsythe’s home run. The Vols’ big inning, a seven-run third, featured Horne’s grand slam and put a 9-1 lead on the scoreboard.
The Gamecocks fought back to 9-5, waited out a 71-minute rain delay, then cut it to 9-6 on a Merrifield RBI single.
When Forsythe opened the bottom of the sixth with a double, USC intentionally walked Cody Hawn. Horne then parked a three-run homer beyond the left-field fence to make it 12-6.
“That gives you a little motivation,” Horne said of watching Hawn get the free pass. “You hopefully want to succeed in that situation.”
USC coach Ray Tanner didn’t second-guess himself.
“Hawn, he may be the best hitter here since Todd Helton,” Tanner said.
“I didn’t want to give up a three-run homer to the on-deck guy, but guys like Hawn get that kind of respect.”
The Vols’ bats went silent after that, but the Gamecocks kept coming and Tennessee could not do anything to stop them.
“That’s a tough one,” said Raleigh. “At 12-6, the game should have been over.”
The Gamecocks (31-19, 13-13) wrap up their series with the Vols (22-28, 8-18) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. USC returns home Tuesday at 4 p.m. for a doubleheader against USC Upstate. The team then plays Georgia beginning Friday in a season-f