KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - No rally necessary.
South Carolina picked up Sunday afternoon where it left off Saturday night, wearing out the base paths at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in a 15-6 rout of Tennessee.
This time, the Gamecocks (32-19, 14-13 SEC) didn’t have to dig out of any holes to clinch the series — and a berth in the SEC tournament.
They struck for four runs in their first at-bat and led 12-0 by the fifth inning.
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“I’m really proud of our guys,” USC coach Ray Tanner. “We did some good things here after losing that first game. They battled (Saturday) to come back and earn a win, and today we were able to jump out and take an early lead.”
With the victory and Kentucky’s loss to Auburn, the Gamecocks secured a spot in the SEC tournament May 20-24 in Hoover, Ala. It will be the program’s 13th consecutive appearance in the tournament.
USC started with a flourish. Tennessee freshman starter Adam Adkins walked the first two Gamecocks, retired the third then gave up back-to-back home runs to Jackie Bradley and Justin Dalles. That was the end of Adkins’ outing.
“We’ve been resilient,” Vols coach Todd Raleigh said, “but when we walk the first two batters in the game and they get the home runs, I think that brought us down more than (Saturday’s) game.”
Tennessee senior pitcher Joey Rosas had a similarly difficult go of it in the third. Making his third appearance of the season, the left-hander faced five batters. He walked three, gave up a grand slam to Andrew Crisp and allowed a double as USC grabbed a 8-0 lead.
“They come out and get eight runs on three hits,” Raleigh said. “After last night’s tough one, we needed to come out and throw a couple of zeroes and the game could have been different.”
The Gamecocks kept pouring it on. They struck for four runs in the fifth as Whit Merrifield and DeAngelo Mack added two-run doubles.
USC’s power surge continued in the seventh inning with a pair of home runs. Merrifield tallied his 11th of the season on an inside-the-park home run after Vols center fielder Kentrail Davis crashed into the wall trying to track down a long drive. Kyle Enders added his third homer of the season.
South Carolina’s Blake Cooper (7-4) threw seven strong innings before the Vols scored their final five runs off reliever Michael Roth.
Cooper allowed one run on five hits while striking out five and walking four.
The Vols (22-29, 8-19) went quietly in their final home appearance of the season after honoring six seniors before the game.
Perhaps having been eliminated from the SEC tournament race on Saturday night was deflating. And perhaps the manner in which they were eliminated — blowing leads of 9-1 and 12-6 in a 15-12 loss — also had something to do with it.
“That was completely disheartening (Saturday night),” said catcher Blake Forsythe. “But we push ‘don’t bring the hangover from the day before.’ “
Pitching was again at the root of Tennessee’s downfall. South Carolina had 15 hits and enjoyed six walks and two hit-batsmen.