KNOXVILLE — After dropping three straight Southeastern Conference series for the first time since 2005, the 10th-ranked Tennessee softball team needed some momentum as it welcomed No. 14 LSU to Lee Stadium this weekend.
A combination of solid pitching, productive hitting and the swing of an unlikely hero helped the Lady Vols break their slump.
Haley Bearden lifted a two-run, walk-off home run over the bleachers beyond the right-center-field wall in the eighth inning of Saturday's second game to cap the weekend with a 6-4 win and series sweep of the visiting Tigers (32-10, 7-7).
"It's huge," Tennessee co-head coach Karen Weekly said. "With LSU having two senior All-American pitchers, with us having to play a doubleheader today, everything about the way it was set up worked against us, because we don't have the pitching depth they do.
"I'm so proud of our girls for sticking to the game plan even when we were struggling."
Bearden's bomb was just her fourth hit of the year. The sophomore's power has gained her a reputation in practice, but until Saturday it had not translated in games this year. But as a late-game substitution, she came through to help Tennessee (37-8, 8-7) climb back above .500 in SEC games for the first time since beginning conference play with a sweep of Missouri last month.
"It's amazing," Bearden said. "I teared up a little bit. I was just so happy I could do it for my team, honestly. I've been working so hard to try and be able to do that for my team. Coming through like that was just awesome."
With rain on the way, Sunday's series finale was bumped up to Saturday, forcing the teams to play a doubleheader. Tennessee won the first game of the day 3-2 behind a strong pitching outing from Matty Moss, who improved to 16-3 by allowing one earned run in 6 2/3 innings.
Caylan Arnold (17-4) earned the win in Saturday's second game with five innings pitched across two stints. Arnold was also the winning pitcher in Friday night's 4-2 Tennessee victory.
Senior outfielder and designated player Scarlet McSwain went 5-for-9 over the weekend to pace a Tennessee offense that racked up 21 hits against LSU's esteemed pitching staff of Allie Walljasper and Carley Hoover.
"SEC sweeps are so hard to come by, and especially against a team like that with the pitching they have," Weekly said. "It's amazing."
Tennessee hosts East Tennessee State on Tuesday and plays at Alabama next weekend.