LB Dantzler ended a night of offensive frustration for South Carolina with one swing of the bat. With one out in the ninth inning, he laced a single to the warning track in centerfield to score Connor Bright from third and give the Gamecocks a 2-1 walk-off victory against Tennessee on Saturday night at Carolina Stadium.
Bright singled to lead off the ninth inning and advanced to second on Grayson Greiner’s sacrifice bunt. Bright moved to third on a wild pitch before Chase Vergason was hit by a pitch. Dantzler then drilled the first pitch he saw to the warning track to even the series at one game apiece.
South Carolina (22-9, 4-7 SEC) was 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position until that point and had stranded 15 base runners.
“I was looking for a pitch I could get up,” Dantzler said. “Coach Tanner told me to just try and hit a sac fly. He threw me a changeup and left it up a little bit, and I was able to square it up to the middle of the field. It’s not a secret, I haven’t been swinging it my best. You have to keep swinging and, eventually, it’s going to end.”
Dantzler — who has been moved up and down the batting order — has been mired in a slump, and Ray Tanner hopes the game-winning hit will be a sign of things to come in the second half of the season.
“I hope and pray that is the situation,” Tanner said when asked if something like this could jump-start Dantzler. “Nobody works as hard as LB does, he’s just had a difficult time.”
The victory didn’t waste the effort of South Carolina starter Jordan Montgomery. The freshman from Sumter was making his fifth start — but first in an SEC game — and he was dominant for eight innings. The effort might have solidified Montgomery as the third weekend starter the Gamecocks have been searching for since moving Matt Price back to the bullpen two weeks ago.
Montgomery retired 12 in a row after allowing Tennessee (20-11, 6-5) to take a 1-0 lead after the first two batters. Lead-off batter Will Maddox tripled into the leftfield corner and scored on Zach Luther’s RBI groundout to short. T.J. Costen — who started in pace of the injured Tanner English — made a diving attempt on a ball that was tailing away from him but came up empty. His throw to third was in time to get Maddox, but the ball skipped over Dantzler’s glove.
“I missed my spot on that fastball there,” Montgomery said. “I settled down after that and started throwing my changeup. They were swinging through it so I kept throwing that and mixing in all my other off-speed.”
The only other base runners Montgomery allowed were a leadoff single in the fifth inning and an infield single with one out in the sixth.
“The bright spot was what Jordan Montgomery was able to do,” Tanner said. “It’s very rare in this conference you see a freshman go out there and throw eight innings like he did. That was very special.”
The eight innings was the longest of the left-hander’s short career. He struck out seven and didn’t walk a batter. He gave way to Tyler Webb to start the ninth inning after throwing 99 pitches. Webb pitched a perfect ninth to earn the win and improve to 3-0.
Montgomery felt his relief outing a week ago against Vanderbilt gave him the confidence in making his first SEC start.
“Vanderbilt kind of helped me out,” Montgomery said. “I didn’t really think I was ready but I figured out I could pitch against them and do good. I had a little bit more pressure after we lost (on Friday) for the series, so I knew I had to come out and try my hardest.”
South Carolina finally tied it in the fourth inning with a little help from the Vols defense. With one out, Dantzler walked, Costen singled and Evan Marzilli reached on an error by Tennessee first baseman Luther. Adam Matthews lifted a fly ball to center field that was deep enough to score Dantzler from third.
The Gamecocks’ inability to get a key hit was evident in the first five innings when they stranded 12 base runners — including in the fifth when they loaded the bases with no outs and couldn’t score.
Dantzler popped out to short, Costen struck out and Marzilli grounded out to short. USC also left the base loaded in the fourth after leaving two on base in each of the first three innings. Until Dantzler won it late, the Gamecocks did not make the Volunteer pitching pay for the nine walks and three hit batters.
In 11 SEC games, the Gamecocks have stranded 103 runners.
“It’s really frustrating,” Dantzler said. “We haven’t been getting runners in like we need to. The pitching has really been picking us up all year. We feel a little pressure to get guys in and do a better job of that.”
Tanner, for one, was glad to finally see something fall after leaving 24 runners on in the first two games of the series.
“I know our guys are trying hard, but its obvious we’re pressing a little as well,” Tanner said. “We left 15 on but it felt more like 27 to me.”
The two teams will play the rubber match today at 1:30 p.m. Colby Holmes (3-0, 2.84 ERA) will take the hill for the Gamecocks. Tennessee will counter with sophomore right-hander Nick Williams (2-2, 2.32)