The Razorbacks punched their ticket to Omaha as USC pitchers struggled to find the strike zone
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – It was far from the ending South Carolina desired or even deserved to conclude one heck of a turnabout from a season that at one point appeared on the brink of disaster.
Arkansas rudely dismissed the Gamecocks from the NCAA Super Regionals just one win away from the College World Series with Monday’s 14-4 win in the decisive Game 3 of the series. The nationally fifth-seeded Razorbacks, who are now 35-4 at home, advance to play Texas in Omaha this weekend. It’s their first appearance since 2015 and fourth in the past 14 seasons.
“Arkansas is clearly one of the best teams in America and they played probably their best baseball tonight,” USC coach Mark Kingston said. “I think we had one heck of a season and fell nine innings short of where we wanted to go and it’s something we’ll build on.
Kingston continued, “Arkansas is just a team where it’s really hard to find ways to beat. You factor that into playing in one of the best environments in America here and it’s just a tough team to face. I’m proud we gave them half their losses in this park and we just needed one more.”
It’s the most runs Arkansas has scored in the NCAA tournament since beating Missouri State, 18-4, in the 2015 super regional opener. The series drew over 11,000 for each of the three games at Baum Stadium.
USC finishes the season at 37-26 after quite the reversal of fortune from a 20-17 start that included losses to Presbyterian, Furman, The Citadel and Charleston Southern in addition to a 1-5 beginning in the SEC.
Kingston, struggling to keep his emotions in check following the game, acknowledged the ups-and-downs his players endured throughout the season as a whole.
“They’ve been through a lot. Went through a coaching change, some early season struggles, a ton of injuries and having their confidence shaken, but they overcame all of that. To me that’s the measure of a team and of an individual, can you overcome all those things and we did.
“We’re one of the 10 best teams in America right now and I don’t think that can be questioned. We ran into maybe the best team in America tonight and it was a roadblock for us. From where we came from at the beginning of the season to get to this point, and to see those guys be so devastated, that shows they were invested and they gave us everything they had.”
It’s now been six seasons since the Gamecocks advanced to the CWS when they finished off three straight visits to Omaha with each resulting in an appearance in the championship final and two national championships.
The Razorbacks drained the drama from the win-or-go-home outing from the outset, scoring five runs in the first off freshman starter Carmen Mlodzinski followed by two more in the second off reliever Graham Lawson.
The big early blow was from newly-christened Gamecock slayer Carson Shaddy, the senior second-baseman and hometown hero from Fayetteville. He hit a three-run homer in the first with one out for a 5-0 lead. Shady had the big hit in the series-opener with a three-run double in the seventh to break the game open, and added a two-run homer in Sunday’s USC win.
Shaddy, a 10th-round pick by the Nationals, went 5 for 10 with two homers, a double, four runs scored and nine RBIs. USC right-fielder Jacob Olson hit two homers Monday, giving him 12 for the season and along with 20 doubles finishes with 32 of his 55 hits going for extra bases. No other Gamecock had more than one hit among the team’s six.
“This team fights as one unit and everything we did this year to turn this thing around was something I’ll never forget,” Olson said. “It hurts as bad as anything can hurt in baseball right now. We found out what Gamecock baseball is all about. Fighting for each other and loving each other.”
Former SMC pitcher Ridge Chapman added, “We’re very proud of everybody who put everything into this. It’s kind of crazy how everybody fights for one another and goes out there and grinds for one another.”
The Razorbacks added a pair of runs in the second on two hits and aided by a walk and wild pitch. Arkansas starter Isaiah Campbell, who lasted 13 pitches to three batters before being pulled in his last start in the NCAA Regional clincher, only allowed two base-runners on a walk and Danny Blair bloop single over the first three innings.
USC scored twice in the fourth after Justin Row followed a Jonah Bride single with a double and both runners scored on the same wild pitch when there was some confusion over the umpire’s call on a pitch that ricocheted off the plate to the backstop.
Arkansas snatched away any hope USC had of scratching back into it with its second five-run frame of the night in the fifth. As it did in losing the opener, the Gamecocks inability to throw strikes greatly helped the host’s cause. USC hit the lead-off man in the fifth before walking three-consecutive batters, forcing in a run and leaving the bases full for Casey Martin who promptly doubled home a pair. Four Gamecocks pitched in the inning with the offensive output requiring only two hits.
Seven different USC pitchers threw in the game, none more than two innings, with Woodruff and SMC alum Lawson and Ridge Chapman both going two full. Top reliever Eddy Demurias walked the lone batter he faced. The staff allowed 11 hits, six walks and hit two batters.
Lawson, a 12th round pick by the Nationals, and Chapman, a 17th round pick by the same franchise, both have decisions to make on whether to turn pro. Chapman said from the post-game podium he hasn’t made up his mind.
“We have confidence in all our guys and put them in roles to be successful and tonight just wasn’t our night,” Kingston said of his team’s pitchig. “Everything we threw up there they hit and they hit hard. Sometimes you just have to give credit to a very good opponent.”