KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UTSports.com)-- The Tennessee Volunteers came from behind to take a 4-3 walkoff victory in Saturday's grudge match against South Carolina at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
With the win, Tennessee improves to 17-21 on the year and 6-14 in SEC play, while South Carolina (26-18) slips to 9-11 in conference competition.
"I'm proud of the guys, they deserve to be excited," Head Coach Dave Serrano said. "They've been hearing some tough stuff from me. They know my disappointment. They know our season isn't over with and that we have to do something like today to stay afloat.
"It's funny, I really knew that we were going to win that game. Not because of where we were at in the lineup, but there were just some things. For me, I thought the focus was way better."
At the plate, second baseman Nick Senzel (1-for-5, 2 RBI), shortstop A.J. Simcox (2-for-4, R, RBI) and catcher Benito Santiago (1-for-2, 2 R, 2 SB) led the Volunteers. Tennessee outhit the Gamecocks with nine knocks in the contest.
South Carolina struck early, pushing one run across in the first and taking a 2-0 lead following a solo homer by Gamecocks shortstop Jordan Gore in the second inning.
Tennessee came back to even the score at 2-2 in the bottom of the second, as right fielder Johnny Youngblood and catcher Benito Santiago were each hit by a pitch in back-to-back at-bats. First baseman Parker Wormsley then advanced runners to second and third on a sacrifice bunt, setting the table for Senzel and shortstop Simcox to drive in two runs in the frame.
The Vols held South Carolina until the fifth, when first baseman Kyle Martin hit a solo home run to right-center field and make it a 3-2 ballgame. Again, Tennessee fought back and scored in the sixth to bring the score to 3-3, as Santiago reached on an infield single and swiped two bags to be brought home by Senzel.
Tennessee staged a late rally in the bottom ninth, as Simcox led off with a line drive to right field. Left fielder Christin Stewart then executed a perfect hit and run with a liner to center, moving Simcox to third. After an intentional walk issued to designated hitter Andrew Lee, third baseman/right fielder Jordan Rodgers knocked the game-winning RBI single into right field.
"We pretty much knew if we got A.J. [Simcox] on, we had a pretty good chance to win the game," Rodgers said. "I was just trying to get a good pitch and put the ball in play to the outfield. This isn't about me, it's about all the hard work coming together."
In his 11th start of the season, senior Bret Marks dealt 7.0 innings, allowing three runs on five hits in the outing. After a shaky start, the righthander settled in and went on to toss a strong, season-high 124 pitches, including eight strikeouts against South Carolina.
After beginning the game as UT's designated hitter, righty Andrew Lee worked 2.0 one-hit innings of relief, holding South Carolina scoreless en route to earning his second win of the season.
"It's always important to win. I'd be lying if I said this wasn't a little extra important for us," Simcox said. " This gives us a little pick up and hopefully we can carry the momentum into tomorrow."
"I have confidence that we're going to win every game to be honest with you, but I really had a feeling we were going to do something [today] to overcome our short coming of winning games late," Serrano added.
On Sunday, Tennessee hosts South Carolina in the series finale at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, with first pitch slated for 1 p.m. ET. Game action will be available for viewing via SEC Network television, as Tennessee Baseball Hall of Fame broadcaster Mike Keith joins VFL Rusty Ensor on the broadcast.
For the most up-to-date information about the Tennessee baseball program, visit UTSports.com/baseball and follow @Vol_Baseball on Twitter.