State of the Hogs: Believe It?

Arkansas won only one game on the weekend, but Dave Van Horn was proud of the way the Razorbacks battled against South Carolina.

Dominic Ficociello started two of his replies to questions in Sunday's interview session with the same line: Believe it or not.

That's a good way to preface what Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said in his time with the media -- that despite losing twice on the weekend, he thought his team is improving.

"I truly believe we got better this weekend," said Van Horn, the Arkansas head coach. "I like the team I saw this weekend."

What would make Van Horn and his players stay encouraged after losing two of three? They know the caliber of the opposition.

They battled two-time defending national champ South Carolina -- perhaps the nation's hottest team -- to the wire in all three games.

The Hogs lost in 10 innings Friday night, blowing a 6-0 lead. They had the winning run at third in the ninth, but couldn't get the key hit.

They pounded out 17 and 15 hits in the last two games of the series. They won a 7-6 thriller on Saturday, then lost the strangest game of the season on Sunday, 10-7. There was no score through six innings in the finale.

Here are some of the interesting situations in the Sunday wrapup:

• The Hogs had three men caught stealing, two on failed hit-and-run plays. Carolina right fielder Adam Matthews also threw out two Hogs at the plate.

• DJ Baxendale was almost perfect through six innings. But he struggled on an infield squib hit in the rain to open the seventh, throwing it into the dugout to put the lead runner at second.

• Arkansas catcher Jake Wise was ejected after being called out at the plate trying to score from second on a single. He slammed down his helmet while at his knees in frustration. That mean the Hogs had to scramble at catcher for the rest of the game since backup John Clay Reeves had bruised a wrist in Saturday's game. Pitcher Colby Suggs caught for two batters in the eighth before Reeves asked to play. But he left for a pinch hitter since he couldn't grip a bat. Shortstop Tim Carver wound up catching the ninth.

• The Hogs trailed 10-5 going to the ninth, but still had chances. Their last two outs were all hit well, but the Gamecocks made nice plays.

"Really, the guys thought they could score five runs," Van Horn said. "That last one Anderson hit was on the button but right to the shortstop. (If) that one was a little bit one way or another, we have the tying run coming up. We really were that close all weekend.

"I thought the team showed me something. On Friday night, we had a pitcher (Ryne Stanek) that had a bad back and didn't tell us. He didn't want to come out. Yesterday they really battled and I thought we did again today.

"South Carolina got three two-out hits in the seventh to score four runs. Then it was unfortunate what happened with our catcher. But I liked the way we battled.

"If we weren't a good team before this weekend, we are now. We still had a chance in the ninth."

Ficociello agreed with his coach.

"Believe it or not, we may have one only one game this weekend, but we came out of it with positives," Ficociello said. "Not everything went our way this weekend, but we responded. We lost two games, but we definitely come out of it feeling positive about our team. We played one of the toughest teams and showed we can respond."

And, maybe the Hogs are starting to find their bats.

"Believe it or not, I went 0-for-9 to start the first two games, but I was really confident at the plate," Ficociello said. "I got robbed a couple of times. I had hit a lot of balls on the screws."

Ficociello led the Hogs with three hits on Sunday. Jacob Mahan, Bo Bigham and Brian Anderson all added two hits.

Ficoceillo said batting coach Todd Butler told the team afterwards that he liked what he's seen of the growth in the offense since a bad weekend at LSU.

"Coach Butler told us that we had 39 hits this weekend and only eight strikeouts," Ficociello said. "You look back on the LSU series, we had 13 hits and 40 strikeouts. We've turned it completely around since then and it couldn't come at a better time."

The Hogs left the weekend with a 34-15 overall record, 12-12 in the SEC. They close the conference regular season with a home series against Auburn this weekend, then a trip to Tennessee.

South Carolina started the SEC season in a 1-5 hole, but how stands No. 5 in the country at 36-12 and 16-8 in the league.

"I haven't spent much time looking at that whole deal," Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. "I'm really proud of our guys from fighting out of that hole we were in at the beginning of the year. I didn't know we'd be in the thick of it like we are now, but it's a great feeling and we just have to keep the battle going."

Tanner credited Baxendale for a great start, but liked his pitcher, too.

"This game never ceases to amaze me," Tanner said. "We got a great start from Forrest Koumas, a guy that has been (injured) and came back.

"We knew Baxendale was going to do. It wasn't a surprise. He is very good and he had that kind of outing last week against Florida. We knew it would be difficult for us. He was spectacular and our guy was good and all of a sudden, there's goose eggs everywhere.

"Now you look at the scoreboard and it's 10-7 and they get 15 hits. It's a crazy game sometimes. They fought hard, our guys fought hard and we were able to get some two-out hits."

Carolina reliever Matt Price gave up 10 hits and seven runs but got the victory. Tanner wasn't surprised that it was a tough finish even with a 10-3 lead.

"(Matt) knows he missed a lot of spots, but Arkansas is a team that has gotten it going offensively," Tanner said. "They got 17 hits last night and 15 today, so they've got it going and we were not afraid to make some pitches once we got the lead and they did a great job of hitting it. You have to give them all of the credit in the world.

"On the flip-side, Matt didn't walk anybody. He kept grinding it out. They got some hits, but we had enough runs to hang on. He got hit a little bit, but we got a win."

The hitting was the big positive for the weekend, for the Hogs.

"I think we are coming around," Van Horn said. "We faced some incredible pitching the last few weeks and we are getting it going. It's a good time to come around, too."

He said things might be different in postseason play.

"Our league is incredible," he said. "We are 12-12 and you look back and we might have lost a few more of them, but a few hits here and there and we might have had quite a few more."

Ficociello said it's just a matter of taking a tough series and building on it.

"It doesn't get much tougher than what we just had this weekend in every aspect," he said. "It was tough in every shape and form and we battled through it."

Carver said, "The SEC has been like this every year I can remember. There are no series that you go in thinking you might sweep. You just grind it out and work for postseason. That's what we are doing."

You can believe that.

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