Breaking new ground

Razorbacks put themselves in the driver's seat with a hold-your-breath 2-1 victory over South Carolina. The win ends the Gamecocks' NCAA winning streak at 22 games and leaves Arkansas one win away from claiming a spot in the national championship round.

OMAHA, Neb. – There was a common theme when questions were lobbed at Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn Monday night right after a tough-as-nails showdown with South Carolina at the College World Series.

And as much as he could, the Razorbacks’ 10th-year coach tried to come up with an answer that worked after Arkansas edged the Gamecocks 2-1.

Ryne Stanek and Barrett Astin teamed up to limit South Carolina to four hits – none to lead off an inning – and the Hogs manufactured a pair of runs with two-out singles from Dominic Ficociello and Matt Vinson to scrounge up just enough offense.

Strange feeling: South Carolina had to come to grips with its first NCAA Tournament loss in 23 games

Arkansas’ victory ended South Carolina’s 22-game NCAA winning streak and a 12-game CWS streak dating back to the second game of the 2010 series.

The Razorbacks, meanwhile, are in uncharted territory under Van Horn.

By winning the first two games at the CWS for the first time since 1979, the Hogs reached a new level of success for a program that has experienced plenty of good times since Van Horn went back home to coach his alma mater.

Thanks to Monday’s nailbiter, Arkansas (46-20) is in charge of Bracket II and needs just one more to claim a spot in the best-of-three championship series. In Van Horn’s two previous trips to Omaha with the Razorbacks, and two before that with Nebraska, his teams were 2-8 – both wins coming in 2009.

Now Van Horn and the Hogs have two full days to savor their status as a frontrunner until they return to action against the winner of Wednesday’s Kent State-South Carolina elimination game.

 “That’s what you shoot for,” Van Horn said. “When you look at the bracket on the way up here, you know that if you win Game 1, that’s a major plus.

 “Being 2-0 gives you a chance to rest a little bit and use less pitching while they’re using pitching.”

If Arkansas can keep getting the kind of pitching that Stanek and Astin provided Monday on the heels of DJ Baxendale and Brandon Moore in the first game of the CWS, it’s going to be tricky for any of the remaining five teams to knock off the Razorbacks.

Arkansas is only the third team since 1976 to limit its first two foes to one or no runs, joining Pepperdine (1992) and Texas (2005).

Barrett Astin logged three almost perfect innings to notch his 11th save

Stanek bounced back from an abbreviated outing vs. Baylor in the Super Regional to grind out six innings on the way to his eighth victory. And Astin was almost perfect in three innings for his 11th save.

The Gamecocks (46-18) got runners into scoring position in four of the six frames Stanek threw, but almost every time he seemed to be getting wobbly, he found an escape hatch.

That began in the first inning as Carolina threatened when Evan Marzilli roped a single to center field with one out and Christian Walker drew a walk. Stanek put the fire out when he retired LB Dantzler on a groundout to first and Adam Matthews on a comebacker.

Those two outs established a trend as six different Gamecocks missed on chances to chase in a runner in scoring position and they were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position as a team.

USC’s only breakthrough came in the fifth inning when Chase Vergason walked to start the frame, moved to second on Dante Rosenberg’s bunt and dashed home when Marzilli burned Vinson in center field for a triple.

Astin only ran into trouble once in his three-inning save. Dantzler doubled with one out in the eighth and was left standing when Matthews tapped out to second base.

“Stanek and Astin were very, very good,” Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner said. “I thought our hitters battled hard up there, but their stuff was special.”

Added Marzilli, “Yeah their stuff was on. We just couldn’t capitalize in those situations.”

Arkansas did find a way twice on a night when the Hogs managed only six hits. A big difference was that the Razorbacks got their leadoff batter on base in five of the first seven innings.

Evan Marzilli reacts after his triple scored USC's only run of the night

Tim Carver opened the game by ramming a single to right field off Carolina starter Colby Holmes and Jacob Mahan laid down the first of four Arkansas sacrifice bunts in the game. Matt Reynolds couldn’t get Carver home, but he drove a ground ball to the right side to move him to third base.

Holmes worked carefully to Ficociello and fell behind 3-and-0 and the Hogs first baseman ripped the next pitch to left-center field to plate Carver.

In the fourth inning, Brian Anderson worked Holmes for a leadoff walk and broke for second base with Bigham at the plate. When Rosenberg threw down to second base, he and Bigham got tangled up and the Arkansas batter was called for interference for the first out of the inning.

After Joe Serrano flew out to right field, Bigham stole second base, and that turned out to be huge when Vinson punched a base hit to right field to send Anderson scampering home for a 2-0 lead.

“Just enough offense,” Van Horn said. “I thought we did a nice job early in the game working some counts. Laid down two or three nice sacrifice bunts. Got a couple of hits, drove in some runs and we held on. That’s just kind of the way we’ve been doing it.”

With a two-run cushion to work with, Stanek got more aggressive early in counts and forced the Gamecocks to take swings earlier than they might’ve wanted.

Stanek stayed around the strike zone for the most part, going to a three-ball count on only three of the 25 batters he faced – all walks.

Jake Wise welcomes Brian Anderson home on Matt Vinson's 2-out single in the fourth inning

“It’s always big when score runs early,” Stanek said. “We know we’re working with a cushion and we can relax and throw our game and attack the strike zone.”

The Hogs’ defense was nearly flawless with the biggest play coming to end the fourth inning.

Matthews smacked a double with one out before Stanek got Connor Bright on a hot shot to Ficociello at first base. With Matthews at third base, speedy Tanner English tried to drag-bunt for a hit, but Ficociello pounced on the ball, scooped it up and swept a tag to get English.

“You get a run there probably with anybody at first base except Ficociello,” Tanner said. “He’s great over there. It wasn’t quite inside enough for (English) to get past it.

“We just didn’t get enough opportunities to push the envelope a little bit or hit-and-run because they were pitching so well.”

Carolina got plenty of pitching as well.

Holmes was solid, surrendering only four hits and the two runs into the fourth inning. Left-hander Tyler Webb went the rest of the way, limiting the Hogs to a pair of hits over the last 5.1 innings,

The Gamecocks will try to get a rematch with Arkansas when they face Kent State on Wednesday. The Golden Flashes (47-19) stunned Florida 5-4 earlier Monday to stay alive and send the top-seeded Gators home.

 “They’re very good,” Tanner said of Kent State. “There are only six teams left, so everybody’s pretty good. You just hope you can have a good game.”

Or if you’re Arkansas and Van Horn, you finally get to figure out what to do from an enviable position that’s new to them.

“We have a chance to put together a strategy, rest up some guys and go from there” Van Horn said.


VIDEO: Tanner discusses loss

Big-league pitching, big-league defense

GAME 7: Kent State 5, Florida 4

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