The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: South Carolina softball swept by No. 7 Tennessee in 3-game home series

Gamecock Softball played two games against the University of Tennessee Volunteers over the weekend of March 23, 2024. The Gamecocks, ranked No. 28, lost 1-2 to the Volunteers on March 23 and 0-7 on March 24, making the team's current record 22-9. Notably, senior infielder Denver Bryant doubled with a runner on and two outs in the fourth, but it wasn't enough to push the Gamecocks forward to a win. The game series wrapped up on March 25 at the Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field.

The South Carolina softball team dropped its second consecutive SEC series to start the 2024 season after a three-game sweep by No. 7 Tennessee from March 23 to 25.

The Gamecocks opened the series with a 2-1 loss to the Volunteers on Saturday. Senior catcher/infielder Jen Cummings opened the scoring for South Carolina with an RBI flyout in the first inning, only for Tennessee to respond with a run-scoring single by senior infielder Zaida Puni to tie the score in the third.

Sophomore pitcher Jori Heard and freshman pitcher Sage Mardjetko threw 10 total innings, striking out a combined nine batters and allowing six hits. Despite their efforts in the circle, Tennessee would eventually earn the win in extra innings on a pinch-hit RBI flyout by sophomore infielder Camryn Sarvis.

South Carolina did not fare much better in game two on Sunday, falling 7-0 as the Volunteers earned its 14th shutout victory of the campaign. Tennessee spread out its offense throughout the night, scoring 2 runs each in the third, fourth and sixth innings after jumping out to an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first.

Senior infielders Riley Blampied and Denver Bryant were the lone Gamecock batters to record hits in the game. Blampied earned a single in the first inning and a double in the second, while Bryant hit a double of her own in the fourth.

The Volunteers picked up another shutout, this time by an 8-0 score, in the series finale Monday night. Mardjetko started the game with three scoreless innings, but a three-run fourth inning ended her night early. The Gamecocks were once again limited offensively, with only three hits as a team, all of which were singles. 

Here are three takeaways from the weekend series.

South Carolina's bats struggle in first two games

Tennessee's opponents have struggled to hit against the Volunteers' pitching staff all season. Through its first 30 games, Tennessee has the lowest team earned run average in Division I softball (1.09 over 186 innings).

That trend continued over the weekend, as the Gamecocks mustered just one run across the first two games of the series on Saturday and Sunday. South Carolina's batters hit a combined .158 (9-57) over 17 total innings of play and had trouble generating offense over the weekend.

A few explosive innings are costly for Gamecocks 

Although the final game of the series had a lopsided final score, Tennessee only needed two high-scoring innings to get past South Carolina. A pair of extra-base hits in the fourth inning helped plate 3 runs for Tennessee, while six hits in the sixth inning, including a three-run home run from Puni, put the game out of reach. 

This issue was compounded by South Carolina's stagnant offense, which scored only 1 run on 12 hits in the entire series. Those offensive struggles carried into Monday night, as senior outfielder Kianna Jones, senior infielder Aniyah Black and junior catcher Giulia Desiderio were the only Gamecock batters to get base hits.

Tennessee’s starter in the circle, sophomore pitcher Karlyn Pickens, delivered an impressive performance for the Volunteers on Monday night, striking out 10 Gamecocks across six innings. She also only allowed two walks along with the three hits, which limited South Carolina's offensive opportunities. 

We’ve just got to find a way to be more offensive and compete at the plate,” head coach Beverley Smith said. “We’ve got to figure out what's going to score runs for our team and just get us more competitive there.”

Mardjetko continues to shine despite tough weekend for the team

A tough fourth inning derailed her overall stat line, but Mardjetko had an impressive body of work after pitching 12 total innings across the weekend. 

Mardjetko allowed just 1 run in over seven innings pitched in game one of the series Saturday night, helping send the game into extra innings. She followed that performance by throwing 1.1 innings in relief without allowing a hit on Sunday and another three strong innings on Monday before getting pulled in the fourth. 

I thought Sage Mardjetko got us off to a good start,” Smith said. “I credit the Tennessee hitters for making adjustments as we made pitching changes.”

Facing Tennessee's offense is no easy task for an opponent, as it ranks second in the SEC for home runs. Mardjetko has shown that she can pitch in high-leverage moments against some of the nation's top teams. She finished the weekend with a 1.96 ERA on the season across 75 innings with 78 strikeouts.

They have a lot of power ... They’re all good hitters, and they’re a threat at any point of the lineup,” Mardjetko said. “They have big home run numbers. They’re one of the best hitting teams in the SEC, so I think you just got to tip your cap to them.”

What's next?

South Carolina (22-10, 0-6 SEC) will return to action with a doubleheader against Charleston Southern (14-15, 1-2 Big South) Wednesday afternoon at Beckham Field. Game one will start at 3 p.m., followed by game two at 5:30 p.m. Both contests will be streamed on SEC Network +.


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