South Carolina lost its baseball series with Arkansas on Saturday afternoon at Carolina Stadium. Now the fifth-ranked Gamecocks are hoping to avoid a sweep.
One day after routing the Gamecocks, Arkansas and right-hander Ryne Stanek outdueled USC left-hander Nolan Belcher in the No. 21 Razorbacks’ 4-2 victory.
“Obviously, we had no answer for Stanek,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “When he’s in the strike zone with his stuff, he’s awfully tough. He overpowered us a little bit there.”
Stanek (2-1), one of the top pro prospects in amateur baseball with a mid-90s fastball, tossed his first complete game of the season. He didn’t allow an earned run — which dropped his ERA to 2.35 — due to two errors by shortstop Brian Anderson. And he allowed three singles, two of the infield variety, while walking one and striking out seven.
“Stanek had electric stuff. That was pretty good on a cold day,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “Belcher matched him pitch-for-pitch, just a different style. I’d love to have that guy. He’s a competitor. He just did a tremendous job,”
The teams complete the series Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Arkansas left-hander Randall Fant will face either USC left-hander Jack Wynkoop or right-hander Colby Holmes.
The Gamecocks (18-5, 2-3 SEC) were swept once in an SEC series over the past three seasons — Kentucky in 2012. Arkansas (16-7, 3-2 SEC) outhit USC 10-3 — which included a solo homer by Matt Vinson in the eighth inning — to win for the second straight day.
“It’s a frustrating deal to lose a series at home in this league. It’s an unforgiving league,” Holbrook said. “No one is going to feel sorry for us. We have to pick ourselves up off the mat, show a little backbone and see if we can respond. If we don’t respond the way I like, we’ll go back to the drawing board. I don’t like getting pushed around in our own stadium.”
Belcher (4-2), who gave up nine hits and no walks while striking out six, has issued one walk in 43 1/3 innings.
“It’s going to be like this every weekend, so you’ve got to come out and just forget the first two games and try to win (Sunday),” Belcher said. “You’ve got to have that mentality and be tough.”
Arkansas took advantage of two errors in the seventh inning by USC shortstop Joey Pankake to score a pair of unearned runs for a 3-1 lead.
The first throwing error started the inning and led to a big gamble by the Razorbacks in the form of a two-strike, two-out squeeze bunt by Jacob Morris. It went for a single when Belcher slipped down. The second run came home when Pankake threw away a ground ball, and Morris scored from third.
“We’ve got to play better defense behind him and give our team a better chance to win,” Holbrook said. “This program is about pitching and defense, and we didn’t play behind Nolan today.”
Holbrook admits to some concern with Pankake’s consistency after three errors in two games ran his total to eight and left him Pankake with an .882 fielding percentage. That could lead to Holbrook looking at a different defensive configuration, although Pankake’s .329 average will keep him in the lineup.
“Shortstops at South Carolina, and I’m sure Joey would tell you the same thing, have to make both of those plays,” Holbrook said. “We’ve got to keep his confidence up and keep working. He’s a gifted player, but his errors were magnified today because they led to two runs.”