Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Kendall clutch: Diggs delivers game's biggest swings
Arkansas right fielder Kendall Diggs hits a run-scoring single Friday, May 12, 2023, during the third inning of play against South Carolina at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — When the bases are loaded, the Arkansas Razorbacks would rather have Kendall Diggs at the plate more than anyone else.
Diggs delivered with the bases loaded yet again on Friday, hitting a two-run single in the seventh inning to help No. 3 Arkansas separate from No. 7 South Carolina in a 4-1 series-opening win on Friday.
Diggs drove in three runs as the University of Arkansas (37-12, 18-7) won its seventh consecutive SEC game and took the overall conference lead before a crowd of 10,218 at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Arkansas improved to 29-3 at home with its eighth consecutive win at Baum-Walker.
South Carolina (36-13, 14-10) lost its fifth consecutive game and its fourth in a row in conference action.
Diggs, who hit his second grand slam of the season last weekend in a win at Mississippi State, drove in the game’s first run with a two-out single in the third inning.
The sophomore from Olathe, Kan., improved to 7 for 15 (.467) with the bases loaded with 24 RBI when he ripped a shot to right field off Cade Austin to bring home Peyton Holt and John Bolton to stretch the Hogs’ lead to three runs in the seventh.
“I think something that takes pressure off me is just trying to get the job done, or going up there saying I’m going to get the job done,” Diggs said. “It’s not about me. We need runs to win. I’m just trying to help the team succeed and it takes a little pressure off it.”
Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said Diggs has gotten ahead in counts and seeks out pitches.
“He’s gotten himself ahead in the count a little bit, and then you can guess,” he said. “Take a shot at something. If you don’t get it, you don’t get it. But if you get it you’re going to hit it hard and that’s what I think he did. He looked fastball there and got it. He looked fastball the other day in Starkville and he got it.”
Arkansas reliever Gage Wood (2-0), who shut down South Carolina’s only run-scoring inning in the sixth, worked the final 3 1/3 innings. The freshman right-hander allowed 2 hits, walked none and struck out 4 on 59 pitches.
“He was just outstanding,” Van Horn said. “He pretty much peppered the zone. Mostly fastballs. Threw a couple of sliders and obviously a few curveballs. He gave us an opportunity to not have to go into our bullpen for another pitcher and that was big for us. It was a really good win.”
Wood expressed his emotions after a couple of key strikeouts.
“Yeah, I get fired up when it happens,” Wood said. “I think I progress over how I’m feeling. So when that gets me fired up it’s going to be hard to stop me when I get my emotions going.
Wood dropped his ERA to 2.30 with the outing.
South Carolina spot starter Eli Jones mowed through the Hogs for two innings, striking out four. Jones did not allow a base runner until Holt’s inside-out swing for a double into the right field corner leading off the third.
Jones struck out a pair of batters before walking Tavian Josenberger. On a 1-2 count, Diggs laced a 102 mph liner off the glove of leaping first baseman Gavin Casas to score Holt for the first run.
Jones (4-3) struck out a career-high 10 batters in 5-plus innings with 4 hits and 2 walks allowed.
South Carolina Coach Mark Kingston said his team looked sharper than in recent games.
“That was two really good teams,” Kingston said. “A 4-1 ballgame and I told the guys that kind of felt like an Omaha game because it was two top five teams, elite pitching on both sides, great defense on both sides. They just drove in a couple of more runs than us.”
Arkansas left-hander Hagen Smith threw three hitless innings with three walks and four strikeouts before power-hitting Ethan Petry singled to open the fourth.
That was the Gamecocks’ only hit until Michael Braswell led off the sixth with a single to left field. With two outs, Cole Messina and Braylen Wimmer hit consecutive singles up the middle to make it 1-1 and chase Smith.
Wood induced a ground ball from Talmadge LeCroy on which third baseman Caleb Cali made a diving stop and Brady Slavens made a clean pick at first to retire the side.
Smith allowed a run on 4 hits and 3 walks with 7 strikeouts on 94 pitches and did not factor into the decision.
Arkansas seized the lead back immediately after the Gamecocks tied it in the sixth. Jace Bohrofen led off with a walk as the last hitter faced by Jones. Ben McLaughlin greeted Austin with a single that moved Bohrofen to third. Cali’s double play grounder brought home Bohrofen with the go-ahead run.
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