KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (TheBigSpur) - South Carolina's hopes for an NCAA Tournament berth aren't gone but they're on life support after a 10-4 loss to Tennessee on Sunday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The Gamecocks (26-19, 9-12) have lost any momentum they had after a series win against Vanderbilt by dropping three of their last four games.
For the third time on the weekend, the Gamecocks scored in the first inning to jump out to an early lead. For the second straight day, the Volunteers (18-21, 7-14) fought back and won.
Over the course of the weekend, even including Jack Wynkoop's masterful performance, Gamecocks pitchers issued more free bases than they had strikeouts. Offensively, the Gamecocks managed only 11 runs - three after the first two innings - against a Volunteers pitching staff with an earned run average north of four entering the weekend.
Add it all together and head coach Chad Holbrook, with 11 games remaining in the regular season, doesn't see an NCAA Tournament team.
"Where we stand right now and how we've played, we don't deserve to even think about the postseason," Holbrook said. "We put ourselves in this position with the way that we've played."
The Gamecocks haven't missed the NCAA Tournament since the 1999 season, a year where the team won the SEC East.
South Carolina came out hot offensively touching up Tennessee starting pitcher Drake Owenby for three runs on three hits in the top of the first. A two-RBI triple by Elliott Caldwell and an RBI double by Alex Destino gave the visitors a 3-0 lead.
"We got off to a fast start. I got lucky to get a ball to drop in for a triple but we were stagnant for the rest of the game," Caldwell said. "They made some adjustments and we didn't."
Sophomore Josh Reagan, making his first weekend start since the Clemson series, immediately gave up a pair of runs to the Volunteers in the bottom half of the inning. A triple by A.J. Simcox and single by Jordan Rodgers, who had the game-winning hit on Saturday night, cut the lead down to one.
It looked like it was going to be an offensive game after one inning but it turned out to be that way for just one team.
Hits were hard to come by from the second through fifth innings but both teams had chances in the sixth. One team made the most of their inning and one did not.
The Gamecocks got their first leadoff hitter of an inning on when Connor Bright bounced an infield single to third base snapping a personal 0-for-18 streak at the plate. Sophomore Jordan Gore, however, was unable to get a bunt down and then grounded into a double play.
The inning fizzled.
In the bottom of the sixth, Tennessee batted around in the order scoring six runs on six hits. The Volunteers left the bases loaded and saw three different pitchers in the inning, which started when Reagan walked the leadoff hitter.
"I was just trying to get ahead of hitters and make them put it in play. My pitches were working well and I don't really know what happened in the sixth," Reagan said. "I felt good. I walked the first guy of the inning and it spiraled out of control from there."
South Carolina had its heart of the order up in the seventh inning and managed to score a run to cut the deficit to 8-4 but Tennessee answered right back with a pair of runs in the bottom half of the inning.
The six-run deficit proved to be far too much to overcome.
"We're just not there as a team," Caldwell said. "Friday we pitched well and played defense. Yesterday, we didn't really hit. We have to put it all together. If you don't put it all together, you're not going to win."
The series win for Tennessee was its first over South Carolina since the 2006 season.
The team will return to action on Friday night at 7 p.m. against Auburn on SEC Network +.