Arkansas gets shot at familiar foe

Erik Payne

Arkansas will get another chance at South Carolina in the College World Series after a couple of close losses in regular season play.

OMAHA, Neb. - South Carolina might as well refer to Omaha as its second home.

On Monday, the defending back-to-back national champions (46-17) will enter TD Ameritrade Park with a 12-game winning streak in the College World Series and a 22-game winning streak in NCAA Tournament play.

After defeating division rival Florida in the opening round, the Gamecocks will have to play another team they are familiar with to extend their streak - the Arkansas Razorbacks.

South Carolina took the regular season conference series with the Razorbacks, but Arkansas battled vailantly against South Carolina in Fayetteville, Ark.

In the Friday night match-up, the Razorbacks scored six runs in the first three innings against Michael Roth (a career-high for runs allowed) before Ryne Stanek had some back issues, stayed in the game too long and the Gamecocks came fighting back.

South Carolina erased the six-run deficit with eight unanswered runs to take the first game in 10 innings.

In game two, Arkansas snapped South Carolina's 12-game conference winning streak by collecting 17 hits and defeating the Gamecocks 7-6.

In the series finale, DJ Baxendale had a one-hit shutout through six innings, but the Gamecocks got hot late and beat Arkansas 10-7 to take the conference series.

Six weeks later, Arkansas and South Carolina are preapring to battle again. South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said preparations should come a little easier this time around, having been so familiar with the Razorbacks already.

"The scouting report is a little easier for us and a little easier for them," Tanner said. "We've played, we know each other very well and we watch each other even when we're not playing together.

Even though one would have said the same about the series in Fayetteville, Monday's match-up would appear to be a pitching duel with the weather conditions consisting of heavy winds blowing in at a large ballpark and two teams competing that rode pitching to Omaha. South Carolina will enter with a team earned run average of 3.06 and Arkansas' team ERA is 2.87.

"We wouldn't be here if it was just all about offense," Van Horn said. "We have to pitch and try to find a way to win."

In a season where Arkansas seemed to struggle to meet high expectations at times, a lack of hits was often blamed. In its 8-1 victory over Kent State on Saturday however, Arkansas proved it could get timely hits to "find a way to win," even when its two best hitters (Dominic Ficociello and Matt Reynolds) went hitless.

Arkansas has a team batting average of .274 which is 154th in the NCAA, but slightly better than the defending two-time national championship team (.272) they will face Monday night.

"We do have our own approach," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said of Arkansas' hitting. "It's trying to stay through the middle and just make contact and put pressure on them."

Despite all the familiarity with the Gamecocks, the Arkansas hitters will face a pitcher they did not get a chance to play at Baum Stadium.

Colby Holmes will take the mound for the Gamecocks. Holmes was injured for the Fayetteville series, but he pitched against the Razorbacks in Columbia, S.C. in 2011. He tossed 8 2/3 innings and allowed just one run on six hits while striking out seven batters in his only appearance against Arkansas.

"We saw Holmes the year before and we didn't do much against him," Van Horn said. "He's a bulldog. He's a stalky right-hander with good stuff and a good breaking ball. He has hard stuff – 90 or 91 miles per hour – and he's really good. That's why he's pitching."

For two teams that have battled each other tough, studied one another and are very familiar with one another, the only thing guaranteed seems to be a quality match-up.

"It's still baseball," Tanner said. "It's all about who can string together some hits, who can play good defense and who can pitch well."

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