Matt Jones is the editor of the Hawgs Sports Network. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has a bachelor's and master's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas.
Razorback Baseball Notebook: Lowest-scoring series, SEC race, multiple complete games
Arkansas starting pitcher Hunter Hollan (right) and catcher Parker Rowland celebrate, Sunday, May 14, 2023, following the Razorbacks’ 5-1 win over South Carolina at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas and South Carolina entered their series Friday combining to average nearly 17 runs per game and with a combined ERA of 8.93.
With pitching staffs thin due to injuries to multiple top arms on both sides, and with some offensive contributors returning from injury to both teams, conventional wisdom called for a high-scoring three-game set at Baum-Walker Stadium.
But they don’t play baseball on paper.
The third-ranked Razorbacks and the seventh-ranked Gamecocks played the SEC’s lowest-scoring series in nine weeks of conference play. Arkansas won twice as the teams combined to score 15 runs.
Arkansas won 4-1 on Friday and 5-1 on Sunday, and South Carolina won 3-1 on Saturday. Each team had a pitcher throw at least five innings in every game.
“Both teams pitched really well and didn’t walk a lot of people,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “Both teams fielded the baseball well and didn’t give you extra outs....That’s the way the game is supposed to be played.”
Following the first game of the series — when Arkansas’ Hagen Smith pitched 5 2/3 innings and Gage Wood closed the final 3 1/3, and South Carolina’s Eli Jones struck out a career-high 10 batters in 5 innings — Gamecocks coach Mark Kingston said the pitching was at the level of teams playing in the College World Series.
That continued Saturday when South Carolina’s Jack Mahoney pitched seven innings and Chris Veach closed the final two. Arkansas starter Brady Tygart pitched three innings on a pitch count and Will McEntire pitched six in relief.
On Sunday, Arkansas starter Hunter Hollan walked one batter in nine innings, and neither Matthew Becker (5 2/3 innings) nor James Hicks (2 1/3) of South Carolina allowed a walk.
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The Razorbacks did not commit an error during the series. The Gamecocks committed one error.
“I thought our pitching and defense [were] at the level that it needed to be,” Kingston said.
The quality of pitching led to a quick series with game times that totaled 7 hours, 9 minutes. The finale was played in 2 hours, 8 minutes.
The Arkansas-South Carolina scores stood out on a weekend full of high-scoring games. Combined runs in other SEC series included: LSU-Mississippi State (53), Georgia-Missouri (51), Auburn-Ole Miss (48), Tennessee-Kentucky (43) and Alabama-Texas A&M (40).
The second-lowest run total of the weekend was a series between Florida and Vanderbilt that had 26 combined runs.
Prior to the Arkansas-South Carolina series, Vanderbilt played in the SEC’s lowest-scoring series of the conference season last week at Alabama when the teams combined to score 21 runs.
The cumulative ERA for SEC teams is 5.12, which is the highest in at least 10 years.
“You hear people talking about it and writing about it that we’re playing old-school baseball scores here,” Van Horn said prior to Sunday’s game on Razorback Sports Network. “Everyone else is 12-10, 14-12, walk offs late in games that are double digits [scoring] each team. We’ve had to scrap for our runs and I feel like they have as well.”
With a 19-8 conference record, Arkansas enters the final week of the regular season with a one-game lead over Florida (18-9) in the SEC standings.
The Razorbacks’ lead in the SEC West grew to 1 1/2 games after LSU (17-9) lost 14-13 to Mississippi State in 10 innings.
Arkansas can clinch at least a share of the conference championship with a series victory at Vanderbilt, or with help elsewhere. Florida finishes the season at Kentucky and LSU finishes at Georgia.
Vanderbilt (17-10) is also in contention to win the conference.
The Razorbacks guaranteed themselves a top-four seed at the SEC Tournament with their victory Sunday. That means Arkansas will play at least twice at the conference tournament in Hoover, Ala., and won’t play until the second day of the tournament that is scheduled to begin May 23.
Arkansas has multiple nine-inning complete games for the first time since 2015.
Hunter Hollan threw a complete game Sunday, a little more than two months after Will McEntire threw one against Louisiana Tech on March 11 at home.
In 2015, right-hander Keaton McKinney threw complete games at home against Kentucky and at Alabama as a freshman.
“They’re rare and they’re hard,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said.
Hollan became the first Arkansas pitcher to throw a complete nine-inning SEC game since 2016, when Dominic Taccolini threw 10 innings at Kentucky.
Three Arkansas pitchers — Zach Jackson at Kentucky in 2016, Trevor Stephan at Tennessee in 2017 and Kacey Murphy against Florida at the 2017 SEC Tournament — threw seven-inning complete games against SEC teams between the complete games by Taccolini and Hollan.
Arkansas has swept four SEC teams, and those teams turned around for notable series wins the following week.
Mississippi State was the latest — and most surprising — with a series win at No. 2 LSU. The Bulldogs won 9-4 on Saturday and 14-13 in 10 innings Sunday after losing the series opener 12-1 in 7 innings.
Auburn was swept at Arkansas in the SEC-opening series March 17-19. The Tigers won two of three over Georgia the following week.
Tennessee rebounded from its April 14-16 sweep at Arkansas to win all three of its home games against then-No. 4 Vanderbilt.
Texas A&M won two of three games over then-No. 3 Florida last week after losing all of its games in Fayetteville.
• Arkansas’ RPI moved to No. 4 Sunday at WarrenNolan.com. The official NCAA RPI will be updated Monday.
• The Razorbacks are likely to move to No. 2 in most, if not all, national polls Monday following LSU’s series loss to Mississippi State. Top-ranked Wake Forest won its series over Florida State.
• Half of Arkansas’ 10 hits Sunday were for extra bases. Ben McLaughlin homered and Brady Slavens, Caleb Cali, Peyton Holt and John Bolton doubled.
• The Razorbacks’ 4.60 ERA in conference-only games is the best in the SEC.
• Arkansas has won twice in its last four series against South Carolina. The Razorbacks also won regular-season series in 2018 and 2021, and won the decisive game of the 2018 NCAA Fayetteville Super Regional.
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