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Analysis: No. 23 Թϱ softball drops home series to No. 17 Arkansas

<p>Fifth-year pitcher Alana Vawter winds up a pitch during South Carolina's game against Arkansas at Beckham Field on April 12, 2024. Vawter faced 29 batters in the Gamecocks' 4-3 loss to the Razorbacks.</p>
Fifth-year pitcher Alana Vawter winds up a pitch during Թϱ's game against Arkansas at Beckham Field on April 12, 2024. Vawter faced 29 batters in the Gamecocks' 4-3 loss to the Razorbacks.

The No. 23 Թϱ softball team suffered its second straight series loss against an SEC opponent, winning one game and dropping two to No. 17 Arkansas from April 12 to 14.

The Razorbacks defeated the Gamecocks 4-3 in the opening game of the series. Senior infielder Riley Blampied scored on an RBI single by redshirt senior utility player Kianna Jones to go up 1-0 in the first inning. Blampied would add to that lead with a 2-run homer in the second to give Թϱ a 3-2 advantage. 

Fifth-year pitcher Alana Vawter started in the circle for the Gamecocks and went on to pitch all seven innings, holding the Razorbacks to just three hits.

Most of the damage done to Թϱ was self-inflicted, including a sixth-inning fielding error that helped Arkansas take a 4-3 lead. The Gamecocks would have a chance to win in the seventh with two runners in scoring position, but the team's late rally was unsuccessful.

Թϱ tied the series with a 2-1 victory over the Razorbacks on Saturday. The Gamecocks mustered only five hits in the contest but managed to get all the offense it needed from a third-inning RBI single by junior catcher Giulia Desiderio and a fifth-inning RBI double by senior infielder Denver Bryant.

Sophomore pitcher Jori Heard started the second game in the circle, but she lasted just two innings before being replaced by freshman pitcher Sage Mardjetko. Mardjetko and Vawter combined to allow just 1 run on four hits across five innings pitched.

Թϱ was unable to turn Saturday's victory into an overall series win, though, falling in the series finale 3-0 on Sunday. 

Arkansas would take an early 1-0 lead in the second inning after senior infielder Hannah Gammill hit a home run. 

Both teams would struggle to get players on base until the bottom of the fifth inning, when redshirt junior outfielder Bre Warren notched the Gamecocks' first hit of the afternoon. Both sophomore outfielder Kyye Ricks and Desiderio would reach base in the same inning, but neither scored.

Mardjetko replaced Vawter at the beginning of the sixth inning to close the game, but the Razorbacks would capitalize and widen its lead to 3-0 after a 2-run homer from junior outfielder Raigan Kramer. 

Here are three takeaways from the weekend series. 

Թϱ maintained an aggressive hitting approach in game one 

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Despite losing the series opener 4-3, Թϱ's offense was aggressive from the start. The team forced the Razorbacks to go into its bullpen after just 1.2 innings from its starting pitcher, redshirt senior Morgan Leinstock. 

This approach helped Թϱ land eight hits compared to Arkansas' three, including Blampied's home run. 

"It's always great when you can run the starter. I thought we were on her quick. I thought that was a good sign," head coach Beverly Smith said. "We came out of the gate swinging, and that's what we needed to do from our offensive perspective." 

The Gamecocks struggled to drive in runners from scoring positions, though, as it left 10 runners on base.

Թϱ experienced similar problems in its midweek matchup against Clemson on Tuesday, where it left six runners on base.

Razorbacks capitalize with runners in scoring position in game three

The Gamecocks struggled to get players in scoring position, just as it did in the series opener. While the Razorbacks accumulated only two more hits than Թϱ, it put six runners in scoring position compared to the Gamecocks' three.

Warren said Arkansas' pitching staff made adjustments that contributed to a poor hitting game from the Gamecocks.

"(Razorback sophomore pitcher Robyn Herron) threw a lot more changeups than she did on Friday, which kind of caught a lot of us off guard," Warren said. 

Smith said she would like to see the Gamecocks increase its aggressiveness at the plate in future series, specifically earlier in the games. 

"We're a better offensive team than we've shown on game day. I would just like to see our players come out swinging," Smith said.

Gamecocks limited the Razorbacks to just five hits in series finale

Despite the 3-run gap on the scoreboard, both the Gamecocks and the Razorbacks batted under .200 in game three. Arkansas hit .192 (5-26), while Թϱ hit .125 (3-24). 

"I thought our pitching did a nice job at keeping an Arkansas offense down,” Smith said.

Arkansas was efficient with its five hits, though, scoring three runs. Vawter said the home runs Razorback batters hit could have been prevented. 

"I could have gotten ahead of batters faster. That was kind of my goal going into it — just to be able to throw my best game. It's getting ahead of batters, throwing that first pitch strike," Vawter said. "I didn't really do a great job of that throughout the entire game, but they made great adjustments as well."

What's next?

The Gamecocks will look to bounce back on the road against the Florida Gators next Friday at 6 p.m. in Gainesville, Florida. The game will be streamed on SEC Network.


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