Pitching was the story Friday and Saturday for South Carolina at Baum Stadium.
It was the Gamecocks’ bats that stole the show on Sunday.
Whit Merrifield hit two home runs, including the go-ahead two-run homer in the top of the eighth inning, and Adrian Morales added a solo shot in the top of the ninth to help the No. 8 Gamecocks to a 5-3 victory and series sweep against No. 12 Arkansas.
“That hit (by Merrifield) gave us a lift, there’s no doubt about it,” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “They had taken control of the game and were pitching really well. That was huge for us and gave us a chance.”
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The Gamecocks kept pace with Florida in the SEC East standings with the win. The two teams meet in Columbia for a three-game set starting Thursday with the winner earning the regular season SEC championship.
“We had three balls leave the yard today,” Tanner said. “We were fortunate with those home runs. I know we won all three games, but it was a pretty even series. We were just able to score more runs.”
Merrifield’s second home run was almost for naught, as he had squared to bunt earlier in the at-bat. With a 2-2 count Merrifield nearly popped out to Arkansas first baseman Andy Wilkins, but the ball landed out of the reach of his diving glove in foul ground.
Two pitches later, Merrifield hit the home run off Razorback reliever Jordan Pratt to follow a leadoff walk by Scott Wingo.
“It was a tremendous feeling, especially against a team like Arkansas who is in the SEC race,” Merrifield said. “Once that ball went out, I had the feeling that our bullpen was so strong we would win the game.”
Merrifield earlier hit a solo home run off the foul pole in left to leadoff the third inning and tie the game at 2. Arkansas responded when right fielder Collin Kuhn hit a leadoff home run of his own in the bottom half of the inning off Tyler Webb to give the Razorbacks a 3-2 lead.
Webb gave up five hits in three innings. He was backed up, however, by a slew of relief pitchers as the Gamecocks sent seven different pitchers to the mound.
John Taylor picked up the decision for USC by throwing two innings of scoreless relief before being pulled in the bottom of the eighth. Matt Price earned his second save of the weekend.
“We use our bullpen a lot; maybe not as much as we did today but that’s been our theme all year,” Tanner said. “We try to stay in the game four or five innings and then turn it over to the bullpen and try to mix and match.”
South Carolina (41-13, 20-7 SEC) took a 1-0 lead on a Christian Walker RBI single to plate Jackie Bradley Jr. in the top of the first inning.
Arkansas (38-14, 16-11) answered in the bottom half of the inning on Brett Eibner’s two-run home run to give the Razorbacks a 2-1 lead.
For the weekend South Carolina’s pitching held one of the league’s most potent offenses to five runs on 16 hits. The series sweep is the first the Razorbacks have suffered this season; they fell from first place in the SEC West for the first time since April 10.