It wasn’t just a seventh consecutive loss that darkened Dave Serrano’s mood on a gorgeous Saturday for college baseball.
As usual, the how and why of a 12-8 loss to No. 11 South Carolina at Lindsey Nelson Stadium weighed heavily on Tennessee’s second-year coach.
“The reason (the Gamecocks) go to the College World Series is because they can pitch,” Serrano said. “That’s why the teams I’ve been a part of have been going regular to the College World Series and regionals, is because you can pitch.
“We don’t pitch right now, and that’s the ongoing problem.”
The Vols (13-16, 3-8 SEC) have allowed 12 or more runs in five of 11 SEC games this season.
The Gamecocks (25-7, 7-4) pounded a season-high 17 hits and never trailed after Chase Vergason yanked the sixth pitch from Tennessee starter Nick Williams over the right-field fence.
“We had some big swings of the bat offensively and squared some balls up,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “It was good to see that for us against a good arm. Williams has been around in this league and has had some very good outings. ... It is a very satisfying series win for us.”
But there was an extra twist of the knife for a coach trying to rebuild a program back to relevancy.
Chalk it up as a missed opportunity.
A five-run third inning — all the damage starting with a two-out walk issued by Williams — spotted the Gamecocks an 8-0 lead.
“We’re never gonna quit,” Tennessee leadoff hitter Will Maddox said. “I think we’ve shown that.”
The Vols showed it Saturday with a seven-run rally in the bottom of the third. The biggest hit among six in the inning was a base-clearing triple by freshman Vincent Jackson off USC reliever Curt Britt.
Thus Trevor Bettancourt, who had begun warming up in the bullpen trailing 8-0, came in to throw his first pitch down 8-7.
“It was huge,” Maddox said, “to come back from eight-nothing.”
Adam Westmoreland relieved Britt and kept USC in front, ending the inning while allowing one run.
But South Carolina extended its lead to 12-7, and Tennessee’s only response in the final six innings was a solo home run by Taylor Smart.
“(It was) the inning that never would end and Adam finally ended it,” Holbrook said. “(Adam) kept us in the game and stopped their momentum. He kept everybody comfortable in the dugout and confident that we could still win the game.”
Westmoreland (4-0) got the win with six strong innings of relief. Williams (1-2) took the loss; Bettancourt allowed four runs in four innings.
It was the third consecutive rough outing for USC starter Evan Beal, who lasted two innings and allowed four walks, two hits and two earned runs.
Serrano flipped his rotation to save ace Zack Godley for Sunday’s 2 p.m. series finale.
“That’s the only thing that’s keeping me up right now,” Serrano said. “We have a good shot (Sunday) and it’s a big game for us. We’ve got to get over this hump.”