Free passes a thorn in the side of Hill, South Carolina

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Sunday, June 10, 2018
Adam Hill, South Carolina pitcher, confers with catcher Hunter Taylor Saturday, June 9, 2018, during game one of the NCAA Super Regional at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville
Photo by Ben Goff
Adam Hill, South Carolina pitcher, confers with catcher Hunter Taylor Saturday, June 9, 2018, during game one of the NCAA Super Regional at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville

FAYETTEVILLE — South Carolina starting pitcher Adam Hill didn’t give Arkansas much of a chance to square up many pitches on Saturday.

But that proved to be part of his problem.

Following a number of quick outs in the game’s first two innings, the Razorbacks turned what looked to be a breezy outing from Hill into a grind, and forced the fourth-round pick of the New York Mets out of the game after only four innings in a 9-3 win.

Hill needed only eight pitches to retire Eric Cole, Casey Martin and Heston Kjerstad in the first inning, working three ground ball outs to begin his day. The second inning yielded little for Arkansas outside of a one-out walk to Dominic Fletcher, who was thrown out trying to steal second base.

Hill subsequently struck out Carson Shaddy to retire the side and head to the third inning with confidence after holding down the heart of Arkansas’ order the first time through. Arkansas, though, began working deeper into counts in the third, spiking Hill’s pitch count and plating a run on Cole’s sac fly to right, scoring Jared Gates, who sparked the rally with an eight-pitch walk with one away.

In the fourth, Hill struggled with command. After a Martin single, Hill sandwiched a walk to Luke Bonfield between a pair of hit-by-pitches. Fletcher’s hit-by-pitch came with the bases loaded and brought in Arkansas’ second run. Shaddy capped the two-run inning with another sac fly to right to give Arkansas a 3-2 edge.

Hill hardly allowed any solid contact, but control cut his start short. South Carolina coach Mark Kingston pulled his starter after issuing his fifth walk to open the fifth and called the situation “unfortunate.”

“I thought the difference was the number of free passes we gave them and they didn’t give us,” he said. “The guys have to throw strikes, they have to make adjustments and you get to the point where if guys aren’t throwing strikes then you need to get the next man in. And that’s why Adam only went four innings tonight.

“We’re here tonight a lot because of Adam and what he’s done for us, but tonight over four innings he was walking guys and we just had to move to the next guy.”

Hill’s final batter was Cole, who worked Arkansas’ third eight-pitch walk of the game. He allowed seven Razorbacks baserunners by way of a walk or hit by pitch, which spelled his departure. Hill owned up to his outing after the game.

“I just wasn’t consistent enough tonight,” he said. “That’s a thing I’ve got to correct. It’s on me, but we’re a team and we’re going to respond tomorrow.”

Free passes have been a bit of a thorn in Hill’s side this season. His five walks Saturday pushed his total to 55 through 17 starts. In his first two seasons with the Gamecocks, he issued a combined 67 in 28 starts.

He combated those troubles, however, by holding opponents to a .192 average against in 2018.

Dave Van Horn said it appeared early on that Arkansas wasn’t going to be able to get to Hill. Once Arkansas took a more patient approach, though, he knew South Carolina’s staff would have to begin mapping out pitching strategy for the middle and late innings.

“Hill had good stuff, especially early. We had trouble squaring him up and he threw a lot of off-speed and got the fastball in on us a little bit,” Van Horn said. “He’s a guy that doesn’t give up many hits. You look at his numbers throughout the year, and he’s got 30 more innings than he’s given up hits.

“He threw some fastballs up and out that we laid off and fouled a lot of pitches off. (Hill’s pitch count) started getting up there to the point where (they're thinking), 'He’s not going to give us seven or eight.'”

Arkansas starter Blaine Knight allowed a game-tying home run in the top of the sixth, which took Hill off the hook for a potential loss. Then Arkansas responded with five runs over the next two innings against Gamecocks reliever Eddy Demurias to blow the game open.

Demurias allowed five earned runs on five hits and issued three more walks in 2 1/3 innings pitched. The game-changer was Shaddy’s bases-clearing double in the four-run seventh, which drew a roar from the crowd of 11,722 that was heard by reporters outside of Arkansas’ Walker Pavilion more than a mile away.

Arkansas now sits one win away from making its ninth College World Series appearance and first since 2015. South Carolina hopes to get more of a quality start Sunday from right-hander Cody Morris, who Kingston said “would be the most likely choice.”

“I thought for most of the night it was a really good ballgame,” Kingston said. “It just got away from us there at the end.”

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