One inning into Sunday’s game against No. 13 Arkansas, the Gamecocks had their sights clearly set on a big SEC series win. Over the next eight innings, those sights faded from view as the Razorbacks rallied from a four-run deficit to a 7-4 victory at Carolina Stadium.
Arkansas relievers Justin Wells and Mike Bolsinger combined to hold USC scoreless after its four-run outburst in the first, with Bolsinger (3-0) tossing one-hit baseball over the final six by throwing his slider for strikes and effectively mixing in his fastball.
“Bolsinger was lights out,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said.
USC coach Ray Tanner was disappointed the Gamecocks (20-10, 5-7 SEC), who missed out on a prime opportunity to even their league record, could get nothing else going after the great start.
“I knew four runs wasn’t going to be enough,” Tanner said. “Arkansas did a good job of battling back. They came up with some clutch hits, and we were unable to do anything after the first.”
USC starter Blake Cooper left the game with a 4-3 lead after walking the leadoff hitter in the sixth. He gave way to closer Alex Farotto, who was a pitch away from getting out of the inning before Chase Leavitt drilled a 3-2, two-out pitch over center fielder Whit Merrifield’s head for a two-run double and a 5-4 Arkansas lead. The hit was Leavitt’s fourth of the game.
“Chase is an outstanding leadoff man. He’s a very tough out,” Van Horn said.
The Razorbacks (22-6, 10-2 SEC) added another pair in the seventh, again with a clutch two-out hit. Zack Cox dumped a single into shallow left just past the glove of third baseman Andrew Crisp to score Ben Tschepikow and Andy Wilkins, whose slide knocked the ball out of Justin Dalles’ glove to make it 7-4.
“That’s a tough way to give up two runs,” said Farotto (3-2). “I don’t feel like I did my job today.”
Tanner tipped his cap to the Razorbacks.
“Give credit where credit is due,” he said. “We were in the position to get out (of the innings), and they made big swings when they needed them.”
Designated hitter Parker Bangs, who got two of USC’s six hits, admitted a tough loss like this one can suck the wind out of a team. But he gave a nod to the Arkansas bullpen.
“They mixed it up and kept us off balance,” Bangs said. “They were throwing their breaking balls for strikes and spotting the fastballs where they wanted.”
The Gamecocks knocked out Arkansas starter Drew Smyly four batters into the game. After Jackie Bradley led off with a single, Smyly walked Merrifield and Nick Ebert before he balked in the first run. Bangs followed with a double to right-center to score two more runs and finish Smyly’s day. DeAngelo Mack’s RBI single off reliever Wells scored Bangs to give USC a 4-0 lead.
Arkansas closed the gap to 4-3 in the fourth inning off Cooper on a leadoff solo homer by Jacob House and a two-run shot to center by Cox.
“In college baseball, especially against a team like Arkansas, you’d better keep tacking on runs,” Tanner said.
Next up, the Gamecocks will play a pair of midweek games against rival Clemson, the first at Carolina Stadium on Tuesday night, the second at Clemson on Wednesday.