COLUMBIA, S.C. — Nick Hernandez turned in a sparkling complete-game performance on the mound Thursday and the Tennessee batting order chipped in with its most explosive output in Southeastern Conference play all season as the Volunteers baseball team defeated 18th-ranked South Carolina 13-2 at Sarge Frye Field.
In his second win over the Gamecocks in as many tries, Hernandez came within one out of a two-hit shutout. The left-hander finished the night having allowed two runs on just three hits with one walk and eight strikeouts while facing just five batters over the minimum.
A two-run homer by South Carolina third baseman James Darnell with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning spoiled UT’s shutout bid. But Hernandez remained on the hill to finish out his second career complete game as Tennessee improved to 27-27 (12-16 SEC) and kept its SEC Tournament hopes alive.
Hernandez still has not issued multiple walks in any of his 13 starts this season, and he boasts 63 strikeouts against just nine walks for a 7.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio on the year.
Tennessee’s offensive fireworks were highlighted by four home runs, and the Vols’ 11-run margin of victory was its largest of the season. UT’s 13 runs tied a season-high in SEC play.
“Nick was outstanding,” UT head coach Todd Raleigh said. “South Carolina is a very good offensive team. We just had a good team effort.”
SEC Freshman of the Year candidate Kentrail Davis opened the game’s scoring with a rare inside-the-park home run to lead off the top of the second inning. The Theodore, Ala., native belted a 1-1 offering from Gamecocks starting pitcher Will Atwood off the top of the centerfield wall. South Carolina centerfielder Whit Merrifield leapt up and collided with the wall while trying to make the catch, but the ball eluded him and ricocheted back towards the diamond, enabling the speedy Davis to easily round the bases.
The inside-the-park homer was Davis’ 13th longball of the season—tops among all SEC freshmen—and was the first inside-the-park job by a Vol since Josh Alley (2003-05) hit a solo shot against Niagara in the second game of a doubleheader on March 10, 2004.
Davis’ homer also moved him into a tie with Kurt Keene (1997) for third place on UT’s all-time freshman list.
Davis drew a leadoff walk in the top of the fourth, keying a Tennessee rally during which four consecutive batters reached base. Vols first baseman Jeff Lockwood drove in Davis with an RBI basehit, and another run crossed when shortstop Cody Grisham grounded into a double play.
Tennessee second baseman Danny Lima capped UT’s three-run fourth with a two-out RBI single that plated Lockwood. That marked the end of Atwood’s night, as the lefty was chased from the hill after allowing four runs on five hits through 3 2/3 innings.
Vols third baseman Cody Brown crushed a two-run homer to dead-center in the fifth inning to give UT a 6-0 lead. It was the junior’s ninth home run of the season and the 18th of his career. Catcher Yan Gomes was driven in on the play after leading off the frame with a single.
Gamecocks reliever Craig Thomas saw a pair of walks come back to haunt him later in the top of the fifth, as UT left fielder P.J. Polk belted a three-run homer to left-center, driving in Lockwood and designated hitter Jarred Frazier—each of whom drew free passes earlier in the inning. Polk’s fifth longball of the season put the Big Orange up 9-0.
Hernandez, meanwhile, was cruising for the Vols. The Miami, Fla., native surrendered no runs on just two hits with six strikeouts and no walks through five innings. On the flipside, South Carolina pitchers had managed to walk five batters and hit three Vols batsmen in the first five frames.
Gomes scored an unearned run in the sixth to give the Vols a 10-run lead. South Carolina right fielder Harley Lail misplayed the ball on a double by Brown, enabling Gomes to scamper home all the way from first. Tennessee added another unearned run in the seventh when Grisham scored on an RBI fielder’s choice by right fielder Josh Liles.
Lockwood belted his eighth homer of the season—a two-run shot to left-center in the eighth—to increase UT’s lead to 13 runs.
Atwood took the loss to fall to 5-3 on the year, while South Carolina dropped to 35-19 (13-15 SEC).
Lima finished the night 3-for-3 with an RBI and two hit-by-pitches. Brown went 4-for-5 with three runs and two RBI, and Lockwood tied his career-best with three runs and three RBI while collecting a pair of hits. Polk’s three RBI were a career-high.
The series resumes Friday at 7 p.m. The Vols will send redshirt-freshman Bryan Morgado (5-4, 4.04 ERA) to the mound, while the Gamecocks will start right-hander Nick Godwin (5-3, 3.00 ERA).