FAYETTEVILLE — Failing four times to score with the bases loaded, hitting into three double plays and relieving ace starter Blaine Knight after four innings left Arkansas a run short despite 13 hits in a 3-2 loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks before 6,329 Thursday night opening a three-game SEC series at Baum Stadium.
“Just kind of a game for us of missed opportunities,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said of Arkansas’ first home SEC loss this season and first time losing a SEC opener home or road. “We couldn’t come through with the big hit. We did a good job of getting guys on just couldn’t get the big hit to bring them in. And give credit to their pitchers. They wiggled out of a couple of jams and held on to that lead.”
Knight, throwing 70 pitches through four innings and visited by pitching coach Wes Johnson while giving up two fourth-inning hits, left a 2-1 lead to reliever Barrett Loeske starting the fifth.
Loeske yielded a leadoff infield short by Noah Campbell immediately followed by a two-run home run by Carlos Cortes.
That’s all South Carolina needed even as Loeske and Razorbacks relievers Evan Lee, Cody Scroggins and Kole Ramage shut out the Gamecocks thereafter.
Van Horn explained Knight, still 6-0 with Loeske taking Thursday’s loss, was physically OK but struggling in the coach’s view.
“Blaine just really didn’t have very good stuff,” Van Horn said. “You could tell they were on him pretty good (six hits but no walks and four strikeouts) and we just felt like there was no reason to send him back out for the fifth. He had thrown 70 pitches and labored (25 pitches) to get through that first inning. He threw a lot of pitches. So we kicked it to the bullpen and honestly they did a really good job. They only gave up two runs on one swing. We didn’t make a play at short and the guy hits a home run and we’re down a run.”
The Razorbacks, ranked second or third among the several national polls, take 25-10 and 8-5 overall SEC West records into tonight’s 6:30 game against Coach Mark Kingston’s Gamecocks, 20-14, 6-7 in the SEC East.
The series concludes at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Knight struggled the first two innings yielding two hits in both.
The two hits in the second, No. 9 hitter Hunter Taylor’s double to left after Justin Row singled and was bunted over to second, produced 1-0 South Carolina lead.
Knight pitched a 1-2-3 third and scoreless fourth despite two Gamecocks singles.
Arkansas tied it 1-1 off starter Logan Chapman in the second. One-out singles Luke Bonfield and Dominic Fletcher put runners at first and third for Grant Koch to hit a sacrifice fly so deep to let that Fletcher tagged to second while Bonfield scored. Jordan McFarland and Carson Shaddy both walked but Jax Biggers left them loaded popping up to short.
Eric Cole singled off Chapman’s glove opening the Arkansas third. Casey Martin doubled with Cole scoring as left fielder Carlos Cortes bobbled the hit. Martin is Arkansas’ fastest runner but not so fast that he could successfully tag on Koch’s foul fly to left turned into a doubleplay.
“A hustle play,” Van Horn said, approving of Martin taking the chance. “The left fielder (Cortes) made a perfect throw.”
Biggers batted with the bases-loaded again in the fourth rapping into an inning-ending doubleplay squandering singles by Fletcher, Koch and Shaddy.
“We hit into a big doubleplay that was kind of a killer for us in the middle of the game when we had a chance to blow it open,” Van Horn said.