KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The fourth-ranked Tennessee Lady Vols clinched their second SEC regular-season title on Saturday – the program’s first since 2007 – with a 4-2 victory over South Carolina at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium.
Under the direction of head coach Karen Weekly, Tennessee led the conference wire-to-wire in its pursuit of the league crown. The Lady Vols displayed excellence throughout the season, sweeping four SEC series and winning seven.
Tennessee (41-7, 19-4 SEC) clinched the title in comeback fashion, getting a Zaida Puni three-run home run in the fifth inning to jump in front of the Gamecocks.
Down 2-1, sophomore Katie Taylor drew a two-out walk to keep the inning alive for UT. South Carolina then intentionally walked Kiki Milloy to bring Puni to the plate. On a full count, Puni crushed the go-ahead three-run shot over the wall in left to put Tennessee up, 4-2.
Senior Payton Gottshall came out of the bullpen to start the sixth inning – tossing the game’s final two frames – and shut the door to help clinch UT’s conference title.
Milloy opened the scoring in the first with her single-season record-breaking 20th home run – a solo shot to left field. The homer places Milloy all alone atop the single-season home run rankings, breaking the previous single-season mark of 19 held by Lauren Gibson and Annie Aldrete.
South Carolina (33-19, 8-15 SEC) chipped away and tied the game in the third inning courtesy of Jordan Fabian who knocked a two-out single to third that allowed Brooke Blankenship to score.
In the fourth, the Gamecocks used a bit of two-out magic to take a one-run lead. Aaliyah Black drew a walk before being pinch run for by Haley Simpson who advanced around to third on a passed ball followed by a wild pitch.
Giulia Desiderio then hit a grounder to third that was misplayed by Puni, resulting in an error that allowed Desiderio to reach base and Simpson to score.
Lady Vol starter Karlyn Pickens got out of the inning in the next at-bat, inducing an inning-ending fly ball to center.
Puni then came to the plate in the fifth inning with two on and two out and put Tennessee in front for good with her eighth home run of the year – a three-run shot off the scoreboard in left-center.
In the circle, Pickens pitched well for UT as she tossed five innings and recorded six strikeouts. The freshman surrendered just four hits and two runs en route to her ninth victory in 2023.
Gottshall came on in relief in the sixth and did not allow a hit over the final two innings as she earned her second save this season.
Donnie Gobourne got the start for South Carolina and went the distance in the circle. She allowed four runs on three hits, struck out 10 and walked five. She suffered the loss and is 9-6 on the year.
Tennessee and South Carolina return to the diamond on Sunday to close out the regular season. First pitch is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET.