Free passes doom Gamecocks in opening-game loss

Free passes doom Gamecocks in opening-game loss
Source: Twitter / @GamecockBaseball

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (TheBigSpur) - Arkansas was able to take advantage of 11 free passes to take Game 1 of the Super Regional 9-3 over South Carolina on Saturday night at Baum Stadium.

Five Razorbacks who reached base by walk or hit batsman came around to score with a sixth coming in on a hit batter with the bases loaded. The mistakes on the mound were too much for the Gamecocks to overcome, despite hitting a pair of home runs, which were both solo shots.

Now, the Gamecocks (36-25) face a true must-win situation or the season will end two wins short of the College World Series for the second time in three seasons.

"It just got away from us there in the end," first-year head coach Mark Kingston said. "The difference was the number of free passes we gave them and they didn't give us. Disappointed we lost, but we'll be ready to go tomorrow."

A bases-clearing double by second baseman Carson Shaddy that keyed a four-run seventh inning for the Razorbacks (43-18) put the game away for the fifth overall national seed.

Arkansas entered the game with a 29-3 record when it scores six runs in a game and by the end of the night, another win was added to that total. The Razorbacks also moved their home record to 34-3 on the season.

"When you give up free passes, it makes it very difficult," senior Hunter Taylor said. "You have to battle around it and try to find a way. Tonight may not have been our night, but that's why we have tomorrow."

South Carolina opened the scoring on an RBI double by Taylor the second inning, but Arkansas knotted it up quickly with a sacrifice fly from Eric Cole in the bottom of the third. The Gamecocks took the lead back quickly when LT Tolbert launched a solo home run in the fourth inning to put his team on top 2-1.

The home run for Tolbert was his seventh of the season, which helped him surpass his total of six over the first two seasons. It was also his team-best 52nd RBI of the season.

The bottom half of the inning is the one that saw the game get out of control for starting pitcher Adam Hill, who threw 37 pitches in the inning. Hill, making what was potentially his final start for the Gamecocks, escaped the inning only allowing two earned runs but his pitch count got out of control because of a couple of walks and hit batters. He was removed after walking the leadoff hitter in the fifth inning.

"The guys have to throw strikes and make adjustments," Kingston said. "If you're not throwing strikes, you have to get the next man in. That's why Adam, unfortunately, only went four innings tonight. We're here tonight a lot because of Adam and what he's done for us. Tonight, he was walking guys and we just had to move to the next guy."

Hill has 101 strikeouts and 55 walks on the season in 83 innings pitched.

"I just wasn't consistent enough tonight," Hill said. "That's a thing I've got to correct. It's on me, but as a team, we're going to respond tomorrow."

Junior Eddy Demurias entered the game and was able to work around the leadoff walk from Hill, which helped the Gamecocks tie up the score in the top of the sixth inning on a solo home run by Madison Stokes. The senior drove his 11th ball of the season out of the park.

The Razorbacks took the lead again in the bottom half of the inning on an RBI single by Jax Biggers, the nine-hole hitter, with two outs. It was the seventh, however, that doomed the Gamecocks and put the game out of reach.

Demurias combined with freshman John Gilreath to face nine hitters and allow four runs on four hits with two walks and a wild pitch. In addition to Shaddy's bases-clearing, three-RBI double, .248 hitter Jared Gates bounced an RBI single off of Gilreath to score Shaddy.

"They're the stingiest one through nine in the country," Demurias said of the Razorbacks' lineup. "There's no holes in their lineup. They make you work every pitch, every hitter does, so it's definitely a difficult task at hand."

Arkansas added a final run in the bottom of the eighth just for good measure. South Carolina couldn't get anything going offensively against relief pitcher Barrett Loseke, who picked up his third save of the season going three shutout innings giving up one walk and striking out four.

South Carolina will try to stay alive in the Super Regional with a win on Sunday. First pitch is set for 3 p.m. and set to be broadcast on ESPN. The Gamecocks will throw sophomore Cody Morris while the Razorbacks counter with left-hander Kacey Murphy.

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