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Analysis: No. 20 Թϱ baseball suffers 4th SEC series loss of season against No. 2 Arkansas

The No. 20 Թϱ baseball team lost its weekend series against No. 2 Arkansas 2-1, bringing its record to 27-13 on the season. While the Gamecocks were able to pull off a 6-3 win on Saturday afternoon, it fell to the Razorbacks on Friday and Saturday night. Next up, Թϱ will face No. 3 Kentucky on Friday, April 26, 2024, at 7 p.m. This will be the first of a three-game series.

The No. 20 Թϱ baseball team dropped its fourth series of the season against SEC opposition this weekend, winning just one of three contests against No. 2 Arkansas.

The Gamecocks dropped the first game 2-1 on Friday night. After scoring its first run in the fifth inning, Թϱ could not generate any more momentum. 

The Gamecock offense had its work cut out for it facing the Razorbacks, which would shut down any offensive production. Թϱ was only able to notch 1 run against Arkansas’ ace, junior pitcher Hagen Smith, who pitched a solid outing for six innings and gave up just two hits. 

Թϱ's bullpen strung together a five-pitcher performance that only allowed four hits. Redshirt sophomore Roman Kimball had the start for the Gamecocks, but early struggles and a lingering injury limited him to 2.1 innings. 

The loss was given to fifth-year Ty Good, who pitched 2.2 innings in relief, but he put the Gamecocks in a jam in the fifth. The Razorbacks' only runs were then surrendered under junior Chris Veach, who came in to clean up in the sixth. 

Impressive outings from freshman pitchers Parker Marlatt and Jake McCoy kept Arkansas from adding any insurance to its lead in the late innings. But the Թϱ offense would ultimately fail to capitalize off their performances. 

The Gamecocks bounced back and won game two of the series 6-3. Junior pitcher Eli Jones started the game for Թϱ. He finished with four innings of work, only allowing 1 run despite giving up seven hits and one walk.  

Թϱ's bullpen pitchers — namely junior Matthew Becker, senior Garrett Gainey and sophomore Connor McCreery — also pitched well in the contest. The trio completed a combined five innings of work while holding Arkansas to 2 runs and collecting five strikeouts to hang on to the win.

The Gamecocks were unable to carry that momentum into game three, however, as it fell 9-6 in the series finale.

Arkansas jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the second inning, but Gamecock junior pitcher Dylan Eskew recovered and went on to have his longest outing of the season thus far. Eskew allowed just four hits and 1 earned run across 5.2 innings, recording three strikeouts in the process.

Թϱ made it a 1-run game by the sixth inning after RBI doubles from Messina in the third and junior outfielder Austin Brinling in the fifth. But a late offensive outburst by the Razorbacks, which saw the team erupt for 5 runs in the seventh inning, put the game out of reach for the Gamecocks.

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Here are some key takeaways from the weekend series.

Թϱ faces elite pitching in opener

The Gamecocks faced one of the toughest bullpens in all of college baseball this weekend. Entering the series, the Razorbacks led all of Division I in ERA and strikeouts per nine innings. The team would start one of its best pitchers, Smith, in game one. 

“(Smith’s) average fastball was 98,” head coach Mark Kingston said. “He threw a slider for strikes all night, and that’s why he’s going to be the first pitcher off the board for the Major League Draft. He’s done that to everybody this year, and we are no different. And we didn’t get help in some other areas, as well, so he made it really tough on us tonight." 

The Gamecocks wouldn’t help its offensive efforts against Smith either, stranding 10 batters on base and failing to put the ball in play with runners in scoring position. Smith and the relief staff would rack up 16 strikeouts to send Թϱ packing. 

A culmination of both factors handed Smith his 10th win of the season.

Bats bounce back after tough first game

After managing just four hits in game one, Թϱ's lineup got back on track in game two of the series. The team collected 9 hits and 6 runs in its win against Arkansas. 

The Gamecocks got on the board early as junior third baseman Talmadge Lecroy singled home a pair of runs in the second inning.  

Թϱ amassed the rest of its runs in the sixth inning after Brinling hit an RBI single. Brinling and Messina came around to score after a two-RBI single by fifth-year second baseman Parker Noland to make it 6 runs on the day, which turned out to be all the Gamecocks needed in game two. 

Brinling, Noland and junior outfielder Kennedy Jones all finished the game with two hits apiece. 

Brinling shines throughout the weekend

Brinling had not been given much playing time before Թϱ's series against Arkansas. Heading into Friday's game, Brinling registered just one at-bat across eight appearances over the entire season.

He took advantage of the opportunity he was given over the weekend, though. He hit .400 (4-10) over the course of the series, driving in 2 runs and scoring an additional 2 runs himself.

Kingston praised Bringling for making adjustments to his swing, which allowed him to hit higher-caliber opposition.

"He did exactly what we wanted to — he gave us quality at-bats, he got big hits, he took his walks, he played good defense in the outfield," Kingston said. "He looked, this weekend, like the guy we recruited last summer."

What's next?

The Թϱ baseball team will stay at home for another three-game series when it takes on No. 3 Kentucky (32-6, 15-2 SEC) next weekend. The first pitch for Friday's game is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on SEC Network+.


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