It's Baseball Time in Tennessee: Vols at South Carolina Series Preview (May 18-20)
Recently: It was going to be a matchup of styles last weekend against Kentucky, and on Friday and Saturday the Vols showed that long ball > small ball. Five homers Friday night and a Jared Dickey grand slam on Saturday propelled UT to 10-6 and 10-7 wins. And on the Lord's day, they rested. Tennessee also beat Belmont on a rain-soaked Senior Night Tuesday.
South Carolina was ranked as high as #3 nationally before losing a series to Auburn, getting swept at Kentucky, and losing last weekend's series at Arkansas. The Gamecocks dropped their midweek game against Charlotte on Tuesday, so hopefully Tennessee can add to the downward trend in Columbia.
Previously on Vols vs. Cocks: Tennessee is just 43-66 all-time against USC, and 16-39 in Columbia. UT is 7-3 in the last 10 against Carolina, including sweeping the Gamecocks in 2022 and a rare series win in Columbia in 2021.
What to Watch: South Carolina has some really good players. Outfielder Ethan Petry, for example, is top-10 in the SEC in hits, home runs, RBIs, average, slugging, and OPS. Peep the stats:
Note that USC has not officially named starters for Friday or Saturday, and UT has not named Saturday's starter.
South Carolina is Tennessee's seventh ranked SEC series this season. The conference has been her usual, brutal self. Going into the Vandy series a month ago, this season looked like it might be a total bust, so the fact that UT even has a chance to go .500 or better is remarkable itself.
The real question for this series, though, is can Tennessee win away from Lindsey Nelson Stadium? They took that question to Athens a couple of weeks ago and returned with a resounding meh. Getting swept in Columbia would be deflating. Sweeping the Cocks seems improbable. A single win would let Tennessee finish right at .500 in SEC play and probably calibrate fans' postseason expectations properly. But can they get two wins?
The conventional wisdom for weeks has been that if UT could get to 16 SEC wins they'd still be in contention to host. D1Baseball has Tennessee projected as a 2 seed in #6 (overall) West Virginia's regional (paired with Notre Dame for the drama). I'm not sure I buy that unless the Vols get swept this weekend and immediately get eliminated from the SEC tournament next week. Predicted RPI has Tennessee wining this series and getting to 16 wins and a top-6 final RPI, and then the committee would have to make some choices. First, though, Tennessee has to show they can win on the road.
One last thing: a weird stat I wanted to highlight. Tennessee has only 3 saves on the season, by far the fewest in the SEC. Mizzou and Miss. St. each have 7. Arkansas and Florida lead the league at 16. Tennessee, for whatever reason, just doesn't find itself in a game state that requires a save very often. It's strange.