Hollan’s gem clinches series for Diamond Hogs

Arkansas starting pitcher Hunter Hollan delivers to the plate, Sunday, May 14, 2023, during the first inning of the Razorbacks’ 5-1 win over the South Carolina Gamecocks at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Hunter Hollan gave the Arkansas bullpen Sunday afternoon off.

Hollan, a junior left-hander, threw a complete game as the No. 3 Razorbacks beat No. 7 South Carolina 5-1 at Baum-Walker Stadium before an announced crowd of 9,981.

“Really the story of the day obviously was Hunter Hollan,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “He was amazing.”

Hollan had the first complete game by an Arkansas pitcher of nine or more innings against an SEC opponent since April 22, 2016, when Dominic Taccolini went 10 innings in the Razorbacks’ 1-0 victory at Kentucky.

It was the second complete game for the Razorbacks this season along with Will McEntire going nine innings when Arkansas beat Louisiana Tech 6-1 on March 11.

“They’re rare, and they’re hard,” Van Horn said of complete games. “You just don’t want to stress guys out like that.

“At this time of the season, warm day, it was a perfect scenario.”

Hollan said it was his first nine-inning complete game, that the longest he went at San Jacinto (Texas) Junior College was eight innings.

In Hollan’s 12 previous starts this season, his longest stint was six innings in four games.

“Really, I had no idea where my pitch count was,” Hollan said. “And I think it was in the sixth inning I looked up and I was like at 70-something pitches. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m probably going nine today.’ ”

Hollan, who finished with a career-high 113 pitches, was at 94 after eighth innings when he and pitching coach Matt Hobbs discussed whether he’d go back out for the ninth.

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“Hobbs came to me after the eighth and he was like. ‘Well?’ ” Hollan said. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, I want it.’ ”

Arkansas (38-13, 19-8) took two of three games from South Carolina (37-14, 15-11) and has the SEC’s best overall record a game ahead of Florida (18-9), which leads the East.

The Razorbacks, who clinched a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament, lead LSU (17-10) by 1 1/2 games in the West.

Arkansas beat South Carolina 4-1 on Friday night and the Gamecocks won 3-1 on Saturday night.

“We know that we don’t lose home series very often, and we had that mindset going into today,” said Razorbacks third baseman Caleb Cali, who was 3 for 4. “We took that to heart.”

Hollan got out of a first-and-third jam in the second inning with a double play when he caught a soft liner by Talmage LeCroy and threw out Messina trying to get back to third base.

“I was glad it wasn’t hard-hit,” Hollan said with a laugh. “But that was a big play. That was one of the reasons I was able to go nine.”

Will Tippett led off the third inning with a home run to give South Carolina a 1-0 lead. Then Evan Stone walked and Dylan Brewer reached base on a bunt single with one out, but Hollan struck out Ethan Petry and Messina.

“It was just one lot those kinds of games where you have to give him credit,” South Carolina Coach Mark Kingston said of Hollan. “We had him on the ropes early and he wiggled out of it and then he settled in.

“Lefties are known to do that in our game.”

Hollan (7-2) retired 19 consecutive batters before Messina hit a two-out single in the ninth inning.

“He was in the 90s,” Van Horn said of Hollan’s pitch count. “But there was no way we could take him out.

“The number of pitches, they do matter. But not as much as how stressful were they? How many tough innings did he have to fight out of?”

None the final six innings

“Today I felt like he just really pitched,” Van Horn said. “Fastball, changeups, cutters, sliders.

“He just mixed it, and all of them were right around the plate. Even his misses a lot of times were really close.”

Hollan allowed 5 hits with 1 walk and had 10 strikeouts.

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“They got into swing mode because they felt like they were going to be behind 0-1, 0-2,” Van Horn said. “So they just went up there hacking.”

Ben McLaughlin’s two-out home run in the eighth inning on an 0-2 pitch from South Carolina reliever James Hicks — a junior right-hander from Conway — hit the top of the right field fence and bounced over to extend Arkansas’ lead to 5-1.

“That was a big run for us,” Van Horn said. “You go from [leading by] three to four, that’s a little bit difficult. Especially mentally if you’re swinging the bats, that fourth run is a little tough.”

Arkansas tied it 1-1 in the bottom of the third when second baseman Peyton Holt singled, stole second base and scored on shortstop John Bolton’s double.

The Razorbacks took a 3-1 lead in the fifth inning on catcher Parker Rowland’s two-run single that scored Cali and Holt after they had singled and doubled.

The Razorbacks made it 4-1 in the sixth inning when first baseman Brady Slavens doubled to knock South Carolina starter Matthew Becker (4-2) out of the game and Cali hit an RBI single against Hicks.

Hollan made sure the Gamecocks couldn’t hit their way back into the game.

“It was a lot of fun to watch, just watching him compete every inning,” Holt, who was 3 for 4, said of playing defense behind Hollan. “I mean, living in the zone, you’ve got to expect a ground ball almost every pitch.

“I think he did a really good job locating, and the results show.”

Hollan threw 80 strikes and 33 balls.

“That’s pretty amazing,” Van Horn, a former Arkansas second baseman, said of Hollan having strikes on 70% of his pitches. “That is a big-time percentage right there.

“For him to do that, it just keeps your fielders on their toes. When you’re pounding the strike zone, I know as a former infielder, I loved it.

‘It’s like every pitch, ‘Here it comes, here it comes. It’s coming to me.’ ”

Arkansas used five pitchers in the three-game series with Hagen Smith, Gage Wood, Brady Tygart, McEntire and Hollan.

“Our pitching staff was amazing all weekend,” Van Horn said. “Coach Hobbs has done a great job.

“The pitchers have done a great job of keeping themselves in shape and healthy down the stretch and really throwing a lot of strikes.”

Hollan said no way was he going to come out with a chance to pitch his first complete game.

“It’s unreal to throw nine innings,” Hollan said with a smile. “And I’m going to pay for it tomorrow when I wake up.”