Despite dropping the first two games of the weekend set to a daunting No. 11 South Carolina squad, a strong feeling of confidence existed among the men for Tennessee as they prepared for Sunday afternoon's series finale.
Tennessee had been just a play or two away from stealing either of the first two contests and because head coach Dave Serrano had adjusted his rotation, he was sending ace Zack Godley to the hill to try in hopes of salvaging one win and halt a seven-game skid.
At least, that was the plan.
After the Volunteers (13-17, 3-9 SEC) surrendered the first six runs of the game, the Gamecocks (26-7, 8-4 SEC) opened the floodgates in the eighth and ninth, scoring eleven times in the final two frames en route to a 19-2 victory and series sweep at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
"We're not where we're supposed to be according to plan to be honest with you," Serrano said. "For anyone that's ever worn this uniform or represented this university, I apologize and I'm embarrassed. Where we're at right now and where we should be, I take full responsibility for that. I took on this challenge to get this program where it's supposed to be, and we're not taking the strides that are even close to where we want to be."
The primary concern leaving the weekend — as is the case with most young teams — was the pitching as inconsistencies that continue to plague Tennessee. Veteran starters Godley and Nick Williams struggled in game's two and three respectively, and the Volunteers' bullpen was shaky at times, allowing 15 earned runs in 14 2/3 innings of work. Serrano felt strongly that the pitching struggles made all the difference against South Carolina.
"South Carolina's a regular in the College World Series because they can pitch," Serrano said after Saturday's loss. "We don't pitch right now. That's the problem. That's the ongoing problem with where we're at right now."
"I was leaving balls up and they were taking advantage of it. I've got to do a better job of getting the ball down," Godley said on Sunday.
Aside from the weekend's final contest, the Volunteer offense was able to match their opponent, who came in boasting a resume of three straight College World Series appearances and two out of the last three national championship titles.
On Friday trailing by two in the eighth, Tennessee rallied to tie the game on a Vincent Jackson RBI double turned two base error but would go on to lose game one 5-4. The freshman from McDonough, Ga., who finished the weekend with four RBIs and two runs scored, was also vital in Saturday's seven-run third, an inning that saw the first nine Volunteer hitters reach base safely before an out was made. Jackson got the big hit, a bases-loaded triple that wiped the bags clean, which at the time; cut the deficit from six to three. The rally, however, wasn't enough as the Vols fell in game two 12-8.
In addition, four Volunteers banged out multi-hit games over the weekend. Taylor Smart (on Saturday) and catcher Ethan Bennett (on Sunday) also smacked solo homers.
"We're a growing team, and I think we need to continue to grow instead of taking steps back," Bennett said on Sunday. "There was some good stuff this weekend, some bad. But until we figure those bad things out, things probably won't turn around for us."
The Diamond Vols will try to end an eight-game skid as the travel to Johnson City on Tuesday to face in-state foe ETSU. First pitch is slated for 7:05 p.m.