UPDATE: First pitch for USC-Arkansas Game 2 has been moved to 4:06 p.m. Saturday. The game will be televised on Fox Sports South/FS Carolinas.
South Carolina suffered its worst SEC loss since 2008 in a 15-3 setback to Arkansas on Friday night in the series opener at chilly Carolina Stadium.
The Razorbacks were ranked No. 1 in the preseason but have struggled out of the gate to fall to No. 21. They opened SEC play last weekend by dropping two of three to Mississippi, but the visitors used two big innings Friday to pick up a rare easy victory in league play.
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“You can see why they were the preseason No. 1 team in the country,” South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said. “The game got away from us there in the fourth inning. We had a number of walks and couldn’t make a pitch to get out of the inning. It’s a credit to their hitters. They did a great job.”
It was a disappointing performance for starting pitcher Evan Beal after two strong outings.
Beal was making his third consecutive Friday night start since Jordan Montgomery went down with a lower distal humerus stress reaction in his throwing arm before the final non-SEC series of the season. Beal pitched well in the first two outings, allowing one run on nine hits over 12 1/3 innings in picking up victories against Rider and Missouri. In the 4-1 win against the Tigers last Friday, Beal struck out a career-high 10 with one walk.
He came into the game with an 0.56 ERA in seven appearances and started well against the Razorbacks, striking out the side in the first inning. Through the first three innings, he had allowed one hit and one walk.
Arkansas started the fourth inning with three consecutive singles to load bases before Beal recorded the first out on his sixth strikeout. But the right-hander walked the next two batters on 10 pitches to force in the first two runs.
Beal worked a 2-2 count on No. 9 hitter Jacob Morris before allowing a two-run, ground-rule double that bounced near the visiting bullpen over the left-center field wall to increase the lead to 4-0. After another walk, Beal uncorked a wild pitch to score Jake Wise. Taylor Spoon ended Beal’s evening with a two-run single.
“First off, I feel like I started strong, mixed well, kept the ball down,” Beal said. “I ran into a little adversity in the fourth inning. They got the bases loaded and I walked two guys in. That’s inexcusable on my part. I’m pretty embarrassed by that. It something, as a pitcher, you can’t do. Last week, I felt I played damage control pretty well when they got runners on but, obviously, that didn’t happen (Friday).”
The Razorbacks (15-7, 2-2) capped the nine-run inning on Brian Anderson’s two-run home run on the first pitch from reliever Forrest Koumas.
Beal allowed eight runs on six hits with four walks and six strikeouts and threw 96 pitches in 32/3 innings.
“I hope this will be a learning experience for him, and he’ll get better because of it,” Holbrook said of Beal. “When things go wrong, he has to learn to work himself out of it. He was a pitch away from getting out of the inning. I should have made the move earlier but I wanted to give him a chance to work his way out of it.”
The Gamecocks (18-4, 2-2) finally touched Arkansas starter Barrett Astin for three runs in the sixth inning. LB Dantzler and Grayson Greiner had RBI doubles and Connor Bright added a run-scoring single to make it 9-3.
Astin and two relievers combined to limit USC to six hits with nine strikeouts.
“Things just weren’t falling our way,” Tanner English said. “That’s baseball. Sometimes that will happen to the other team and we’ll be on the other side of that score.”
The Razorbacks scored five runs off of Koumas and Joel Seddon in the sixth to dash hopes of a comeback. The three USC pitchers walked seven and had command problems most of the night.
Holbrook hopes the players put this one behind them quickly.
“You can’t do that on Friday night in this league and expect to win,” Holbrook said. “We’ve had our tails kicked here before and we’ve been able to come back and win the series. I hope they come down with the right attitude (today). I expect them to do so.”
South Carolina got English back in the starting lineup after he missed nine games with a shoulder injury but still was short three players. Graham Saiko missed his fourth consecutive game after injuring his left wrist at Missouri. TJ Costen and regular second baseman Max Schrock was unavailable because of illness.
The teams will square off again Saturday at 4:06 pm. The Gamecocks will send left-hander Nolan Belcher (4-1, 1.25 ERA) to the mound against Razorbacks right-hander Ryne Stanek (1-1, 3.32).