They proved him right Sunday, seizing the lead early and never trailing as the Gamecocks won, 8-5, forcing a decisive third game with the Razorbacks on Monday with a trip to the College World Series on the line.
USC (37-25) was powered for the most part Sunday by home runs, as three long balls accounted for six of the team's RBIs. Most importantly, junior shortstop LT Tolbert's grand slam blast in the bottom of the fifth inning blew the game open from 2-1 to 6-1.
"With guys on third base with less than two outs, I'm just trying to put the ball in the outfield. I'm just fortunate to get it out of there, I really didn't think I got it out at first," Tolbert said afterward.
Right after Tolbert's long ball, his eighth of the season and second in the series, senior catcher Hunter Taylor went back-to-back with a solo homer to left. Both of the home runs came just after Arkansas (43-19) pulled starting pitcher Kacey Murphy, who had twice defeated USC earlier this season but labored through 4 1/3 innings Sunday.
"The more familiar you become with somebody, the more you know how they're going to attack you, the more you know what they're going to do with two strikes, the more you know what they'll do with runners in scoring position," Kingston said of how his team attacked Murphy. "That guy is really good, but the more you see a guy, obviously, you get a little bit more comfortable. That was key."
Carolina tagged Murphy within its first few at-bats, as sophomore right fielder Carlos Cortes and senior designated hitter Madison Stokes connected on back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners. Row then drove Cortes in with a flared line drive into left field.
"It always feels good to jump out on a team like that. Arkansas' a great team up and down, and if you can jump out on them, it's a good feeling," Row said.
Meanwhile, Arkansas puts runners on third in each of first two innings against USC sophomore starter Cody Morris, but stranded them both times. In the third, the Razorbacks broke through, though, as freshman third baseman Casey Martin dropped a bunt with two outs against a drawn-back infield, singling and then advancing on a throwing error by senior third baseman Jonah Bride.
Freshman outfielder Heston Kjerstad followed with a hard ground ball to second, which Row fielded but then threw away, allowing Martin to score. As Kjerstad raced to second, Taylor skipped the throw into center field, allowing him to move to third.
In the bottom half of the frame, however, Row made up for his error with a no-doubt blast to left field to make it 2-1.
"Justin, 2-3, two runs, two RBIs, two walks, that's about as good as it gets. Made a couple of unnecessary throws that he'll learn from, but we won today, and he was a big part of that," Kingston said.
Morris left the game after five innings without giving up an earned run, but the Razorbacks steadily narrowed the lead, scoring in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings with home runs of their own from redshirt senior second baseman Carson Shaddy and Kjerstad, as well as a sacrifice fly in a frame aided by another throwing error by Row.
But in the end, Tolbert's grand slam proved to be the game-winning hit, and according to Kingston, it had implications for Monday's game as well.
"It got us a little breathing room and allowed us to manipulate how we wanted to use our bullpen, and so, obviously, we needed those runs because they started to scratch back," Kingston said.
Meanwhile, sophomore Sawyer Bridges pounded the strike zone for 3 1/3 innings, his longest outing of the year, to collect the save.
"Against that lineup, you have to change it up second time through," Bridges said. "So I think I did a good job early of going away a little bit, and then that way, later in the game, I could go in. I usually go shorter, but the adrenaline just took over."
Who: South Carolina (37-25) vs. Arkansas (43-19), Game 3
When: 7 p.m. Monday, June 11
Where: Baum Stadium, Fayetteville, Arkansas
Listen: 107.5 FM in Columbia, South Carolina
Probable pitchers: South Carolina — TBA; Arkansas — Jr. RHP Isaiah Campbell (4-6, 4.17 ERA)