KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee looked the part of a team scrapping for its conference life Friday night. The result was an emotional 9-5 SEC victory against South Carolina at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The Volunteers got a strong seven innings from starter Nick Hernandez and a flame-throwing finish from freshman Matt Ramsey. They also received a couple of heads-up defensive plays to throw out USC baserunners.
Most of all, they produced some timely long balls when South Carolina ace Sam Dyson made a mistake.
Kentrail Davis and Cody Brown popped two-run home runs and freshman Zach Osborne delivered a grand-slam to help the Vols (22-27, 8-17) keep their SEC tournament hopes alive, at least mathematically.
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“We played like our backs were against the wall,” Tennessee coach Todd Raleigh said, “like we had to win.”
Hernandez (3-5) surrendered 12 hits but the Vols never let the Gamecocks (30-19, 12-13) build any serious momentum.
South Carolina scored a run in the first, but the Vols let Hernandez know they had his back by striking for three in the bottom of the inning.
Leadoff man P.J. Polk hustled for a double and Brown followed with an RBI single before Davis drove a hanging curveball from Dyson (7-4) over the center-field fence.
In the fourth, Tennessee again roughed up Dyson for three hits to open the inning, all singles.
After Jeff Lockwood’s grounder forced out Cody Hawn at home, Osborne, a 5-foot-7 freshman, sent a Dyson curveball over the left-field fence for a 7-2 lead.
“Zach is amazing,” Davis said. “He makes big plays for us for a little guy. You underestimate him and he can do that all day.”
If Osborne ever had hit a grand-slam back home in Louisville, Ky., it was so long ago he couldn’t recall it.
“Dyson was throwing 94, 96 (mph) all night, so you’ve got to look for the fastball and adjust to the curve,” he said.
The Vols adjusted their lead before the inning was out.
Polk walked and Brown hammered his sixth home run over the left-field fence for a 9-2 lead.
Brown later left the game after warming up at third base before the seventh inning started. He couldn’t throw after re-injuring his shoulder diving at a ball in the sixth.
“Who knows,” Raleigh said. “Maybe he can DH (today), maybe he can throw.”
Said Brown, sporting a post-game icepack, “It’s sore and it’ll probably be sore (today), but we’ll find a way to get in the lineup.”
Things got chippy when Dyson brushed back Osborne in the sixth. In the top of the seventh, Hernandez hit Nick Ebert and home plate umpire Danny Everett was quick to escort Ebert to first base.
“It got a little emotional,” said Hernandez. “That’s what got me through the seventh.”
Ramsey got the Vols through the final six outs, striking out three Gamecocks, including Ebert to end the game.
“Ramsey was unbelievable,” Raleigh said. “That might be the best I’ve seen.”