FAYETTEVILLE - In a game that featured just nine hits, the No. 10 University of Arkansas baseball team dropped a 3-2 decision to seventh-ranked South Carolina Friday night at Baum Stadium. Zack Cox and Andy Wilkins picked up the RBI for the Razorbacks but the Gamecocks pushed the winning run across the plate in the seventh inning to come away with the win. Arkansas (38-12, 16-9 SEC) was held to three hits, its lowest output of the season. The two teams entered the game averaging a combined 23 hits.
"They just played better than us and they pitched better than us," head coach Dave Van Horn said. "That's why they have the record they do and they didn't make any mistakes. Their third baseman made a great play (in the sixth inning) on what could have been a leadoff hit. They just pitched us well. We had a runner at second two different times to try to tie up the game and we never got the hit. They got the hit, we didn't and they beat us, 3-2, in a good pitcher's duel. It's disappointing on our end because we didn't swing the bats well."
South Carolina (39-11, 18-7 SEC) took the early lead with a run in the top of the first. The Gamecocks loaded the bases with no outs after a pair of singles by Whit Merrifield and Jackie Bradley, Jr., and a walk to Christian Walker. Arkansas starter Drew Smyly buckled down and allowed just one run to score on a sacrifice fly by Adrian Morales. Smyly escaped further damage with the help of two strikeouts, fanning Adam Matthews to get out of the inning.
Cox pulled the Hogs even with an RBI double in the home half of the first. Collin Kuhn led off the frame by drawing a walk about of South Carolina starter Blake Cooper. He moved over to second on a groundout by Bo Bigham and then came around to score on the extra-base hit by Cox.
Both starters in Friday's ball ballgame entered the contest with undefeated records. Smyly was 8-0 while Cooper led the conference with nine wins against no losses. In last weekend's opener at Ole Miss, Smyly matched up with then-unbeaten Drew Pomeranz.
After four scoreless innings for both teams, the Gamecocks regained the lead temporarily in the top of the sixth. Designated hitter Nick Ebert got plunked by a Smyly pitch to lead off the inning. Evan Marzilli came in to pinch run for Ebert and moved over to second on a sacrifice bunt by Morales. Kyle Enders drove in the run with a base hit to left field
As they did in the first, the Razorbacks responded in the next half inning with a run of their own to tie the score. With two down, Cooper hit Brett Eibner with a pitch to give Arkansas a base runner. Wilkins followed with a line drive down the line in right field. He moved into second with a double and Eibner motored around from first to score the Hogs' second run of the game.
South Carolina tacked on its third run in the seventh, Smyly's final inning of work. Merrifield reached on a one-out infield single. Bradley, Jr., the Gamecocks' next hitter, doubled to left center to drive in the go-ahead, and game-winning, run. Smyly struck out the final two hitters to get out of the inning; he finished the night with nine strikeouts but it wasn't enough to avoid his first loss of the season.
The visitors turned to their bullpen over the final two innings to seal the win. Matt Price earned his sixth save of the season with a perfect ninth inning, getting Tim Carver to groundout to the shortstop for the final out of the ballgame. DJ Baxendale worked two scoreless innings for the Hogs in relief of Smyly.
The announced attendance of Friday's game was 9,622 (tickets sold), with an actual crowd of 9,217 fans. Both figures are season highs at Baum Stadium. Arkansas and South Carolina are set to return to the field Saturday for game two of their weekend series at 2:05 p.m. The Razorbacks are scheduled to start RHP Mike Bolsinger (5-2, 4.65 ERA) while the Gamecocks will hand the ball to RHP Sam Dyson (4-4, 4.30 ERA).