Super Regional Preview: Hogs, Gamecocks meet again
The Razorbacks are no strangers to the team standing in the way of them making their fifth trip to the College World Series in 15 years.
Having already played in the regular season and in the SEC Tournament, Arkansas and South Carolina will play a best-of-three series this weekend with a spot in Omaha on the line.
Here is everything you need to know about the 2018 Fayetteville Super Regional…
Saturday, June 9 – 5:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Sunday, June 10 – 2 p.m. (ESPN)
*Monday, June 11 – 6 p.m. (ESPN)
In addition to being televised, all three games will also be streamed on ESPN3.com and the WatchESPN app.
Projected Starting Rotations
Sat. – Jr. RHP Blaine Knight
- Stats: 16 G/16 GS, 11-0, 2.74 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 95 1/3 IP, 88 K/22 BB, .224 opp. avg.
Sun. – Jr. LHP Kacey Murphy
- Stats: 15 G/14 GS, 8-4, 2.86 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 88 IP, 74 K/16 BB, .220 opp. avg.
Mon. – R-So. RHP Isaiah Campbell
- Stats: 15 G/14 GS, 4-6, 4.17 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 58 1/3 IP, 60 K/26 BB, .262 opp. avg.
In the Fayetteville Regional last weekend, Knight and Murphy put together their best back-to-back performances of the season. Both pitchers went eight innings, with Knight allowing a couple of home runs while Murphy’s outing was scoreless.
Interestingly, their 16 combined innings of two-run ball featured only seven strikeouts. Head coach Dave Van Horn said that was good to see because it meant they weren’t trying to do too much and were pitching to contact, allowing their defense to work.
“What they did is they got ahead of hitters, where they could throw what they wanted to throw and see if they could get a chase or a mis-hit ball a little bit,” Van Horn said. “That’s called pitching and that’s what they do.”
Knight and Murphy are a big reason the Razorbacks have reached the super regionals. They are one of the best duos in the SEC and the only one in which both players have sub-3.00 ERAs.
“To get this far, you’re going to have guys who can pitch like Blaine Knight and Kacey Murphy,” Van Horn said. “If you don’t have those guys, you’re not playing any more.”
Where things got interesting last weekend, as they have all year, was in Game 3 with Campbell on the mound. Despite showing some flashes throughout the season and even recently, he allowed the first three Dallas Baptist batters to reach with two walks and a hit before he was removed.
Van Horn said after the game that it was a tough decision, but it was the best move to make in order to win the game. He got some live work in Monday’s practice and looked good, so he’ll still be the third starter this weekend, if necessary.
“We all have confidence in Isaiah,” Van Horn said. “I think when he gets back out on the hill, he’ll do a great job.”
Sat. – Jr. RHP Adam Hill
- Stats: 15 G/15 GS, 7-5, 3.99 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 79 IP, 98 K/50 BB, .191 opp. avg.
Sun. – So. RHP Cody Morris
- Stats: 15 G/15 GS, 8-3, 3.68 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 78 1/3 IP, 83 K/30 BB, .234 opp. avg.
Mon. – Fr. RHP Carmen Mlodzinski
- Stats: 18 G/6 GS, 3-5, 4.84 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 44 2/3 IP, 42 K/20 BB, .253 opp. avg.
His stats may not jump off the page, but Hill is the ace of South Carolina’s staff. The right-hander was selected by the New York Mets in this week’s MLB Draft and has the potential to get even better.
The key for him Saturday is to not give up free passes to Arkansas’ dangerous offense. In a loss to the Razorbacks back in April, Hill allowed only three hits in five innings, but issued three walks, hit another batter and threw a wild pitch.
“When he’s pitching effectively, he throws a lot of strikes,” South Carolina head coach Mark Kingston said. “We have to make sure he pounds the strike zone and is throwing secondary pitches for strikes as well. If he does that, he’s a tough pitcher.”
When meeting with the media after Friday’s practice, Kingston confirmed Hill as the Game 1 starter, but said he would “evaluate it from there.”
If the super regional reaches a third game, Mlodzinski is expected to get the ball for the Gamecocks. He hasn’t faced Arkansas this season.
“They have a great pitching staff,” Van Horn said. “You could take three of those guys and flip them around and it’s all about the same. They all throw hard, they all can pitch.”
Top Bullpen Arms
So. LHP Matt Cronin
- Stats: 20 G, 2-1, 12 SV, 3.05 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 41 1/3 IP, 51 K/11 BB, .146 opp. avg.
Jr. RHP Barrett Loseke
- Stats: 21 G/2 GS, 2-2, 3 SV, 3.35 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 40 1/3 IP, 51 K/23 BB, .204 opp. avg.
Fr. RHP Kole Ramage
- Stats: 17 G/2 GS, 1-1, 3.56 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 30 1/3 IP, 42 K/13 BB, .265 opp. avg.
Jr. RHP Jake Reindl
- Stats: 22 G/1 GS, 3-1, 5 SV, 2.47 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 51 IP, 61 K/15 BB, .232 opp. avg.
So. RHP Sawyer Bridges
- Stats: 20 G, 2-1, 4 SV, 1.20 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 30 IP, 21 K/9 BB, .222 opp. avg.
Jr. RHP Eddy Demurias
- Stats: 29 G/1 GS, 7-0, 3 SV, 4.19 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 62 1/3 IP, 48 K/26 BB, .283 opp. avg.
Jr. RHP Graham Lawson
- Stats: 20 G, 1-1, 3 SV, 4.38 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 24 2/3 IP, 24 K/8 BB, .217 opp. avg.
Fr. RHP TJ Shook
- Stats: 21 G, 3-0, 2.33 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, 27 IP, 27 K/15 BB, .305 opp. avg.
Arkansas’ Projected Lineup
1. RF – Eric Cole (jr.): .328/.414/.543, 12 2B, 13 HR, 47 RBI, 56 R, 41 K/34 BB, 4-6 SB
2. 3B – Casey Martin (fr.): .336/.416/.569, 10 2B, 13 HR, 44 RBI, 38 R, 50 K/26 BB, 7-8 SB
3. LF – Heston Kjerstad (fr.): .344/.428/.577, 14 2B, 13 HR, 52 RBI, 56 R, 48 K/21 BB, 17 HBP, 3-3 SB
4. DH – Luke Bonfield (sr.): .299/.442/.497, 9 2B, 8 HR, 34 RBI, 35 R, 35 K/39 BB, 1-1 SB
5. CF – Dominic Fletcher (so.): .294/.341/.468, 14 2B, 8 HR, 39 RBI, 39 R, 42 K/17 BB, 1-3 SB
6. 2B – Carson Shaddy (r-sr.): .331/.430/.620, 11 2B, 11 HR, 43 RBI, 38 R, 51 K/22 BB, 3-5 SB
7. C – Grant Koch (jr.): .250/.366/.397, 6 2B, 7 HR, 34 RBI, 32 R, 36 K/34 BB, 4-5 SB
8. 1B – Jared Gates (sr.): .248/.364/.455, 6 2B, 5 HR, 21 RBI, 18 R, 23 K/15 BB, 2-2 SB
9. SS – Jax Biggers (jr.): .281/.388/.399, 9 2B, 4 HR, 22 RBI, 32 R, 25 K/33 BB, 7-7 SB
South Carolina’s Projected Lineup
1. CF – Danny Blair (jr.): .245/.298/.396, 2 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 13 R, 18 K/4 BB, 2-3 SB
2. LF – Carlos Cortes (so.): .260/.379/.507, 9 2B, 15 HR, 44 RBI, 51 R, 31 K/40 BB, 8-9 SB
3. DH – Madison Stokes (sr.): .331/.417/.587, 12 2B, 10 HR, 43 RBI, 30 R, 41 K/26 BB, 1-3 SB
4. 3B – Jonah Bride (sr.): .307/.423/.427, 12 2B, 4 HR, 31 RBI, 38 R, 36 K/31 BB, 14 HBP, 1-2 SB
5. 2B – Justin Row (sr.): .345/.415/.527, 12 2B, 6 HR, 23 RBI, 29 R, 28 K/17 BB
6. SS – LT Tolbert (jr.): .322/.401/.476, 10 2B, 4 3B, 6 HR, 51 RBI, 40 R, 28 K/23 BB, 10 HBP, 9-12 SB
7. C – Hunter Taylor (sr.): .266/.333/.481, 9 2B, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 22 R, 41 K/17 BB, 1-2 SB
8. RF – Jacob Olson (jr.): .233/.292/.457, 20 2B, 10 HR, 34 RBI, 38 R, 43 K/14 BB, 3-4 SB
9. 1B – Matt Williams (sr.): .222/.323/.319, 4 2B, 3 HR, 21 RBI, 21 R, 27 K/18 BB
How They Got Here
The Razorbacks earned the No. 5 national seed for the NCAA Tournament and hosted Southern Miss, Dallas Baptist and Oral Roberts in the Fayetteville Regional. They beat all three teams to advance to this weekend’s super regional.
After getting strong eight-inning outings by Blaine Knight and Kacey Murphy and beating the two Golden Eagles – Southern Miss and ORU – by identical 10-2 scores, Arkansas clinched the regional with a tight 4-3 win over the Patriots on Sunday.
Much like Arkansas, South Carolina swept through its regional, but it had to go on the road to do so. The Gamecocks were the No. 2 seed in the Greenville, N.C., Regional and beat No. 3 seed Ohio State, host and No. 12 national seed East Carolina, and No. 4 seed UNC-Wilmington.
They scored eight runs over their final two innings to beat the Buckeyes 8-3 in their opening game, jumped out to an early lead in a 4-2 win over the Pirates and then pulled away late in a clinching 8-4 win over the Seahawks.
April 12 – South Carolina 3, Arkansas 2
In its only SEC loss at Baum Stadium this season, Arkansas loaded the bases and came up empty four times. Biggers and Koch each went 0 for 2 in those situations.
Knight didn’t have his best stuff, allowing six hits in four innings, but he gave up only one run and left the game with a lead. He was relieved by Loseke, who promptly gave up a single to Noah Campbell and a two-run home run to Cortes that proved to be the difference.
April 14 – Arkansas 2, South Carolina 0 (7 innings)
With bad weather in the area, Friday’s game was postponed and the teams played two games Saturday. Because the series began on a Thursday, they were required to play two seven-inning games for the doubleheader.
Murphy was dominant for the Razorbacks, taking a perfect game into the seventh before giving up a leadoff single to Row. At that point, Cronin came in and retired the next three batters to earn the save and end the game.
A second-inning home run by Shaddy was all the offense the Razorbacks needed, but they got an insurance run in the sixth when he scored again – this time on a wild pitch.
April 14 – Arkansas 3, South Carolina 0 (7 innings)
After a short break between the games, Arkansas followed a similar script to win the series. Campbell wasn’t quite as dominant, but he allowed only three base runners – two hits and one walk – in five scoreless innings. Once again, Cronin closed it out – this time notching a two-inning save.
Offensively, Kjerstad gave the Razorbacks a 1-0 lead with a two-out RBI single and then Shaddy provided the insurance with a two-run homer in the sixth.
May 23 – Arkansas 13, South Carolina 8 (SEC Tournament)
The Razorbacks earned a bye as the No. 4 seed in the SEC Tournament and ended up playing No. 5 seed South Carolina, who had to beat Missouri the day before.
Despite committing a season-high five errors, Arkansas was never really in trouble thanks to scoring 10 runs in the first four innings. A grand slam by Tolbert after Arkansas botched a potential inning-ending double play in the sixth made the score seem closer than it was.
Backup to Regional MVP
A lot has been made of how Arkansas first baseman Jared Gates – nicknamed “Mr. June” by his teammates – has seemingly flipped the switch in the postseason, but South Carolina has a similar player in its lineup.
After starting only eight games before the NCAA Tournament and hitting just .186, South Carolina centerfielder Danny Blair had an incredible showing in the Greenville Regional.
He went 5 for 10, including a go-ahead three-run home run in the seventh inning of the Gamecocks’ regional-opening win over Ohio State. That blast came after Blair entered the game as a defensive replacement, but he has been in the starting lineup ever since and earned MVP honors of the regional.
Halfway through its conference schedule, South Carolina was in danger of missing the SEC Tournament. Having just lost two of three games against Arkansas, the Gamecocks were just 6-9 in SEC but still four games over .500 overall.
Then they returned home to Columbia, S.C., for a midweek game and laid an egg against a bad Presbyterian team. That seemed to be a wakeup call for South Carolina.
“That’s when we put our foot down and were like, ‘All right, we’re better than this,’” Hill said.
The following weekend, South Carolina swept LSU. It was the first of five straight SEC series victories to end the season and cement their spot in the postseason.
Van Horn said he thinks the turnaround was led by the Gamecocks’ upperclassmen.
“He has an older group,” Van Horn said. “I think his lineup consists of five seniors right now and a junior shortstop that was drafted, so they’ve got older kids that knew how to handle it and they kicked it into gear.”
In the MLB Draft
Arkansas and South Carolina combined to have 21 players selected during the three-day, 40-round MLB Draft this week, with 11 from the Razorbacks and 10 from the Gamecocks.
That put both teams among the six colleges in terms of draft picks produced in 2018.
“That should make for a very entertaining watch for the fans and the media,” Kingston said. “They’ll see a lot of good player out there that pretty soon when this tournament is over will be playing professional baseball.”
3 (87) – Blaine Knight – Baltimore Orioles
4 (122) – Eric Cole – Kansas City Royals
5 (144) – Grant Koch – Pittsburgh Pirates
8 (239) – Jax Biggers – Texas Rangers
10 (311) – Carson Shaddy – Washington Nationals
11 (315) – Kacey Murphy – Detroit Tigers
15 (461) – Evan Lee – Washington Nationals
17 (517) – Barrett Loseke – New York Yankees
17 (518) – Jake Reindl – Chicago Cubs
24 (721) – Isaiah Campbell – Los Angeles Angels
37 (1,119) – Zack Plunkett – Arizona Diamondbacks
3 (83) – Carlos Cortes – New York Mets
4 (110) – Adam Hill – New York Mets
7 (223) – Cody Morris – Cleveland Indians
10 (287) – Madison Stokes – Philadelphia Phillies
12 (371) – Graham Lawson – Washington Nationals
13 (399) – TL Tolbert – Arizona Diamondbacks
17 (521) – Ridge Chapman – Washington Nationals
23 (683) – Jonah Bride – Oakland Athletics
23 (698) – Hunter Taylor – Chicago Cubs
27 (799) – Eddy Demurias – Cincinnati Reds
Home Run Tracker
Arkansas went homerless in its regional-clinching win over Dallas Baptist, keeping it at 90 home runs for the season. That is two shy of tying the single-season school record set back in 2010.
Here is a game-by-game progression of the Razorbacks’ home run total, compared to 2010 and 2017, when it hit the third-most homers in a single season (83).
Stat Comparison – Arkansas | South Carolina (national rank, out of 297 teams)
*Some of the NCAA’s official stats have not been updated since June 2, while others haven’t been updated since May 28, meaning most or all of last week’s regional games are not reflected in the national rankings for each statistical category. For that reason, we are not including those rankings in this preview.
Batting average: .300 | .278
Slugging percentage: .487 | .446
On-base percentage: .396 | .369
Home runs: 90 | 72
Runs/game: 7.1 | 6.3
Stolen bases: 37 | 48
ERA: 3.47 | 4.21
WHIP: 1.24 | 1.36
Strikeouts/9 innings: 9.2 | 8.8
Strikeout-to-walk ratio: 2.83 | 2.01
Fielding percentage: .972 | .982