HOOVER, Ala. – Arkansas starting pitcher Duke Welker followed in the footsteps of his fellow starting pitchers in the semifinal game of the SEC Tournament on Saturday morning with a commanding 3-2 win over No. 9 South Carolina at Regions Park.
The win sent the No. 15 Razorbacks into Sunday’s 3 p.m. championship game between either No. 1 Vanderbilt or No. 19 Ole Miss. Dave Van Horn’s Hogs improve to 41-18 on the season with the win and Arkansas becomes the first University since the SEC began playing a football championship in 1992 to advance to the conference championship game in football, basketball and baseball in the same academic year.
Welker, who had struggled over his last five starts with three straight losses, spotted his fastball all morning and threw his curveball and slider for strikes to improve to 6-5 on the season. He struck out eight while scattering seven hits and surrendering a single tally in the third inning.
Welker left after seven innings as a slight blister began to develop. Travis Hill came out of the bullpen and closed things out for his third save. After a shaky eighth inning, Hill retired the Gamecocks 1-2-3 in the ninth.
“Today we had another outstanding performance by Duke Welker.” Van Horn said. “Honestly he had another inning in him, but he had a little bit of a blister. It wasn’t that he was tired or we didn’t have confidence in him, we just wanted to get him ready for next weekend.”
The Gamecocks got to Hill for a single run in the eighth to cut the lead to 3-2, but Hill caught Drew Martin looking to end the threat with the tying run on third base. USC started the inning with two-infield singles and a walk to load the bases. Harley Lail plated the only run with a RBI groundout.
Freshman right-hander Blake Cooper took the loss to fall to 7-2 on the season. He allowed three runs on six hits in 5.2 innings of work. Alex Farotto kept the Razorbacks at bay over the final 3.1 innings, allowing just one hit with five strikeouts.
The Razorbacks played a little small ball to jump on top again with Jeff Nutt’s RBI single up the middle that scored Logan Forsythe. Forsythe led off the second inning with a sharp single through the left side and then stole second base – his team-high 17th stolen base of the season – to get into scoring position for Nutt.
Arkansas tacked on two more runs in the third inning on three hits. Jake Dugger drove in his second run of the tournament with a single to center field and Casey Coon plated his 69th run of the season with a RBI ground out.
The Gamecocks got to Welker in the bottom of the third inning for a run on three hits but avoided more trouble as Coon cut down USC’s second run at the plate to end the inning. It was Coon’s team-best eighth outfield assist of the season. Phil Disher drove in his 56th run of the season with a sacrifice fly to left field.
Tim Smalling paced Arkansas’ seven-hit attack, going 2 for 4 with a run scored. Wayn Hrozek also extended his hitting streak to six games.
Postgame Notes vs. South Carolina – May 26, 2007
· With the win, Arkansas becomes the first University since the SEC began playing a football championship in 1992 to advance to the conference championship game in football, basketball and baseball in the same academic year.
· The Hogs’ starting pitchers – Nick Schmidt, Jess Todd and Duke Welker – have gone 3-0 this week with a 0.37 ERA over 24 innings while allowing, 11 hits, one earned with five and 31 strikeouts.
· The staff as a whole has combined for a 0.67 ERA in the tournament with 31 strikeouts and a .151 opponent batting average.
· Casey Coon’s third-inning RBI groundout was his 69th RBI of the season, tying him with Rodney Nye (1998) for ninth place in single-season RBI.
· It is just the second time in 14 SEC Tournament appearances that the Razorbacks have won the first three games. The 1995 team won the first two games of the SEC Western Division Tournament in Starkville before losing two straight to Alabama and LSU.
· The Razorbacks have never won an SEC Tournament in two finals appearances in 1998 and 1999.
· Arkansas’ only conference tournament championship came in 1985 when the Razorbacks captured the Southwest Conference Tournament championship at George Cole Field in Fayetteville.
· Dave Van Horn’s Hogs are now 5-1 against top-10 competition this season.
· Arkansas‘ 526 strikeouts as a team this season are the second-most in school history. UA’s 9.02 strikeouts per nine innings is currently the best of all time, ahead of the 8.49 per in 1995.
· Arkansas is now 17-23 all time in the SEC Tournament.
· The Hogs are 36-9 this season when they score first and 38-0 when leading after eight innings.
· The Razorbacks are 11 for 27 (.407) with runners in scoring position during the first three games of the SEC Tournament. UA is also 10 for 32 (.313) with two outs, including eight two-out RBI.
· Casey Coon accounted for his team-best eighth outfield assist to cut down a run at the plate in the third inning.
· Coon’s RBI against the Gamecocks was his 69th of the season, which ties Rodney Nye’s 1998 campaign for the ninth-most RBI in a single season in school history.
· Wayne Hrozek singled to left field in the third to extend his hitting streak to six games.