Hogs come out swinging, win slugfest over Gamecocks

By: Tom Murphy
Published: May 24, 2018 at 1:55 a.m. - Updated: May 24, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.
Arkansas' Jack Kenley scores ahead of the tag by South Carolina catcher Hunter Taylor during a game Wednesday, May 23, 2018, at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
Arkansas' Jack Kenley scores ahead of the tag by South Carolina catcher Hunter Taylor during a game Wednesday, May 23, 2018, at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.

— The No. 7 Arkansas Razorbacks are back at the Hoover Met and back in hammer time.

The Razorbacks rocked No. 24 South Carolina with three home runs and a barrage of base runners in a 13-8 slugfest in their SEC Tournament opener late Wednesday.

Arkansas (38-17), which hit 10 home runs in a run to the tournament championship game last year, advanced to face No. 3 Florida in the late game tonight.

The Gamecocks (33-23), one of the hottest teams in the SEC entering the postseason, will face LSU in a loser's bracket game around 1 p.m.

Left-hander Kacey Murphy (7-4) held down the hot Gamecocks, who had won each of their last five SEC series since dropping two of three to Arkansas on April 12-14, for the first five innings before running into big trouble in the sixth.

Murphy started sharp, as he had in a 2-0 victory over the Gamecocks on April 14 when he had a perfect game broken up in the seventh inning. The junior from Rogers was lifted with two outs in the sixth after allowing 6 runs, 5 of them earned, on 5 hits and 2 walks.

"I thought Murphy had really good stuff," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. "He was pitching to a good team and probably the hottest team in the league right now. … These guys have been pounding the ball, winning at home and winning on the road. They're a dangerous team."

Murphy was pitching in Hoover for the first time since throwing all seven innings of a 16-0 run-rule victory over Florida in the semifinals last year.

Dominic Fletcher started the onslaught with a three-run home run in the first inning and Casey Martin added a towering two-run blast in the fourth and a solo shot in the sixth for the Razorbacks, who scored multiple runs in each of the first four innings to grab a 10-1 lead.

"That was awesome, something I guess you could say I've been looking forward to all year," Martin said. "They were both fastballs. One was low and one was down the middle, so just sitting on time."

Fletcher went 2 for 3 with 5 RBI, while Luke Bonfield, Martin and Jack Kenley also added two hits each in the Razorbacks' 11-hit attack.

Freshman Kole Ramage recorded eight outs in relief and Barrett Loseke coaxed a double play grounder from Chris Cullen to end the game.

Van Horn was notably aggressive, calling for hit-and-run plays in the second and third innings that both paid off with singles and first-and-third situations.

"We came out offensive and just did a tremendous job," Van Horn said. "We get a couple of runners on with a walk and another walk and then bang. That was a good inning. Then we did it the next couple of innings. We made them throw strikes and got a couple of big hits."

The Razorbacks got big production from their top-of-the-order stalwarts but the bottom of the order, which had been struggling in recent games, did damage as well. The trio of Grant Koch, Jared Gates and Kenley in the bottom spots combined to go 4 for 11 with five runs scored and an RBI.

South Carolina right-hander Logan Chapman (3-3) struck out Eric Cole and Carson Shaddy to open the game but began leaving his pitches up and allowed walks to Heston Kjerstad and Bonfield, with a Kjerstad stolen base in between.

Chapman fell behind Fletcher 3-1 and grooved one to the left-handed hitting sophomore, who deposited a no-doubt shot over the wall in right-center field to give Arkansas a 3-0 lead. It as the longest home run in two days at the Hoover Met.

"The guys in front of me had really good at-bats and got on base and then I took a couple of pitches they tried to get me to chase and I got in a good count and got after a fastball," said Fletcher, who hit his eighth home run of the season.

The Hogs got busy again in the second inning, chasing Chapman and his replacement with a three-run frame. Gates got it started with a one-out walk and he reached third when he was off with the pitch on Kenley's hot shot that second baseman Justin Row couldn't handle. Cole's single to center brought in Gates.

TJ Shook came on and walked Shaddy, then gave up a sacrifice fly to Kerstad. After Bonfield's RBI single and a walk by Fletcher, Shook got the hook as the Razorbacks led 6-0.

The Gamecocks broke through in the third with the help of some sloppy Hogs' play. Jacob Olson ripped a shot up the middle off Murphy's leg and the left-hander threw wildly to first to send the runner to second base. After a wild pitch got Olson to third, nine-hole batter Matt Williams hit a shot that Martin, the third baseman, snagged. Martin held the runner for a beat, but his throw pulled Gates off the bag at first, allowing Olson to score. Murphy struck out Madison Stokes looking with Williams at third to leave the score 6-1.

The two errors in the inning were part of a season-high five-error game for Arkansas.

Bonfield singled to open the bottom of the fourth, his third time to reach base, and moved to second on Fletcher's bunt. Martin went down on a low pitch from side-arming Hunter Lomas and swatted it over the left-field wall for a 10-1 Arkansas lead. He added his 12th home run in the sixth to tie Cole for the team lead.

South Carolina scored five runs in the sixth that were largely preventable and chased Murphy in the process.

The inning featured a couple of walks by Gamecocks' pinch hitters, Madison Stokes' bunt single, a booted potential double-play ball by Shaddy and shortstop LT Tolbert's grand slam to pull South Carolina within 10-6.

Arkansas added to its lead with Martin's second home run and Fletcher's two-out, two-run single in the seventh, which scored Kenley and Kjerstad.

The Gamecocks plated two more runs in the ninth off Ramage to close the scoring.

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