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Gamecocks down Arkansas, win series

by Matt Jones | May 6, 2012 at 5:19 p.m.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/WILLIAM MOORE -- Arkansas' Jacob Mahan is tagged out at home by South Carolina catcher Grayson Greiner Sunday, May 6, 2012 at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

— A heavy rain hit Baum Stadium at the start of the seventh inning Sunday, washing away all remnants of the pitchers' duel that highlighted the game to that point.

South Carolina scored four runs in the seventh inning and six in the eighth, and held off a late Arkansas rally to win 10-7. The No. 5 Gamecocks won the best-of-three game series.

South Carolina (36-12, 16-8 SEC) recorded three consecutive two-out hits off Arkansas starter DJ Baxendale in the seventh to break up a quality start for the right-hander and open the floodgates to a wild final three innings.

The game was a fitting snapshot of an entertaining series which saw South Carolina rally from a six-run deficit to win in extra innings Friday night before the Razorbacks took a one-run decision Saturday.

"With two outs, they did it to us," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "They got a few hits and drove in four runs, but then here we come. We had a chance to tie it up and were right there.

"The game got crazy, but I truly believe we got better this weekend. I liked the team I saw this weekend."

Arkansas responded with three in the bottom half of the seventh before the Gamecocks roughed up the Razorbacks' bullpen in the eighth. Arkansas scored twice in each the eighth and ninth, but it wasn't enough to keep from their second consecutive series loss at home.

Baxendale was great for Arkansas before the wheels came off in the seventh, allowing just one hit and striking out seven batters through the first six innings. In his last four starts, Baxendale has allowed a combined eight earned runs, but is 0-2 over that span.

"I thought he was outstanding for five innings," Van Horn said of Baxendale. "He gave up a double in the sixth, but he got out of it.

"I thought he pitched really well."

Christian Walker led off the seventh with an infield single and advanced to second when Baxendale fielded but threw the wet ball into the dugout. Adam Matthews, Chase Vergason and Tanner English each followed with RBI hits to give South Carolina a 4-0 lead.

"It's a crazy game sometimes," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. "They fought hard, our guys fought hard and we were able to get some two-out hits."

Despite South Carolina's output in the top of the seventh, the Razorbacks responded with a rally in the bottom half of the inning, recording hits in each of their first four at-bats. Jacob Morris' two-run single scored Bo Bigham and Brian Anderson, and Morris scored on a RBI hit from Jacob Mahan.

Arkansas catcher Jake Wise attempted to score on the Mahan hit, but was thrown out at the plate. Believing he was safe on the play, Wise spiked his batting helmet off home plate and was ejected.

Wise was believed to be the Razorbacks' only healthy catcher entering the contest after back-up John Clay Reeves suffered a bruised arm when he was hit by a swinging bat Saturday. Relief pitcher Colby Suggs caught for the first three at-bats in the eighth before Reeves entered the game.

Tim Carver, a shortstop, replaced Reeves behind the plate for the ninth inning.

"It's unfortunate our catcher was thrown out for slamming his helmet down in frustration," Van Horn said. "He didn't say anything to anybody and wasn't trying to show anybody up, and then it put us behind the eight-ball a little bit because of the injuries."

South Carolina loaded the bases with no outs off Arkansas reliever Michael Gunn to start the eighth. Grayson Greiner and Michael Roth each had two-run hits in the top of the frame, which ended with the Gamecocks staking a 10-3 lead.

The series win was the second straight in Fayetteville for the Gamecocks, which swept Arkansas in 2010 during their first of two consecutive national championship campaigns. With the win, South Carolina maintained a one game lead in the SEC East and in a tie for the overall league lead with LSU.

"This weekend we were very fortunate," Tanner said. "We had the crazy game where we were down 6-0 and battled back. Then today it looked like Baxendale was going to no-hit us and it ends up 10-7."

Jimmy Bosco's two-run hit in the eighth pulled the Razorbacks within 10-5, and Matt Reynolds and Bo Bigham each had RBI hits in the ninth.

Brian Anderson lined out on a hard-hit ball to South Carolina shortstop Joey Pankake to end the game, leaving the potential tying run in the on-deck circle.

The Razorbacks finished the three-game series with 39 hits, including 15 on Sunday.

"I think we only had eight strikeouts this weekend, whereas a couple of weeks ago at LSU we had 13 hits and 40 strikeouts," said first baseman Dominic Ficociello, who finished Sunday 3-for-5 at the plate. "We've turned the corner completely and it's just about at the right time.

"Even though we only took one in this series, we're coming out of it on a positive note."

Matt Price earned the win for the Gamecocks, allowing seven runs in 3 2/3 innings of relief of starter Forrest Koumas. Baxendale suffered the loss for the Razorbacks.

Arkansas (34-15, 12-12) fell into a tie with Mississippi State for second place in the league's western division - four games behind LSU with two series remaining.

The Razorbacks will play again Thursday in the first of a three-game series against Auburn at Baum Stadium.


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