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May 5, 2012
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - It had to happen sometime. Fitting that it would just before South Carolina could clinch its lucky 13th straight SEC win.
Eighteenth-ranked Arkansas conducted a clinic on target hitting in a 7-6 win over the No. 5 Gamecocks on Saturday, evening the series at one win each and snapping USC's 12-game league winning streak. The rubber match is at 2:05 p.m. on Sunday, with USC attempting to win its sixth straight SEC series and improve to one game ahead in the SEC East with six to play.
The Razorbacks (34-14, 12-11 SEC) approached the plate as if they had a PlayStation joystick, picking their targets and delivering. Arkansas rapped 17 hits, the great majority of them just where a USC defender couldn't get to them, and left the Gamecocks dizzy. Sinking liners, no pop flies, using the infield as a personal chessboard - of the 17, 14 were singles.
"We had to try to get some atom balls," coach Ray Tanner joked. "I don't know how you get those."
They were in short supply. The Razorbacks seemed to have them all stored in their dugout.
Arkansas put the leadoff man on in four innings and scored in every one. It was an exhibition of bunting and situational hitting, making USC defenders run acres from their spots in futile pursuit of ground balls and line drives.
The Gamecocks (35-12, 15-8) were more productive, scoring six runs on just nine hits, but cost themselves too many chances. Grayson Greiner, hitting third for just the third time this season, grounded into a bases-loaded double play to end a potentially big third inning, TJ Costen was picked off of second base to squelch a sixth-inning rally and Friday's hero, Evan Marzilli, grounded to short in the eighth inning to strand two more runners.
USC fought, not wanting to see the streak and its strong grip on first place disappear, but the charge didn't quite have enough fuel. Although Christian Walker and Chase Vergason (yes, .203 hitter Chase Vergason) each hit home runs and USC had a man on with a run in in the ninth, the Razorbacks had enough gumption to finish.
Tanner English wildly waved at strike three from closer Barrett Astin and was thrown out at first on the assist. The Gamecocks left 10 men on base and were left staring at a couple of other missed chances - like the squeeze play that had Greiner, pitcher Jordan Montgomery and Walker charging in, resulting in a scored run and no out at first.
"It was an off day," Tanner said. "They had 17 hits. We had a couple of situations get away from us."
A 1-0 third-inning lead (on a bases-loaded walk) vanished as the Razorbacks got to Montgomery (4-1). The lanky freshman, who had been battered against Alabama last week, again had several of his offerings sprayed all over the ballpark.
"That's been happening to me lately," Montgomery said. "We didn't make a couple of plays we needed to."
The Gamecocks didn't quit, though, in a game with five lead changes. Arkansas took a 2-1 lead in the third, Walker hit one out in the fourth. The Razorbacks took a one-run lead in the fourth, Vergason homered and Walker drove in Joey Pankake in the fifth.
But USC had no answer for the two runs Arkansas scored in the sixth, or the one insurance run that scored in the eighth when Matt Reynolds drove Evan Beal's first pitch into left for an RBI single. Kyle Martin pinch-hit and delivered an RBI single in the ninth to make it 7-6, but English's strikeout ended it.
The Gamecocks gathered around Tanner in the dugout, the first time in an SEC game since April 6 that they hadn't been slapping each other's backs or looking forward to a streak-strengthening game the next day. There wasn't much to say - Arkansas recorded the key hits, the big plays, the big pitches.
Montgomery, after his first collegiate loss, was succinct in how the Gamecocks would handle Sunday's rubber game.
"We'll bounce back."
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