It didn't matter who Dave Van Horn sent to the mound this weekend, they got South Carolina hitters out. It was Trey Killian and Jalen Beeks on Friday with two quality starts against the No. 1 Gamecocks. It was Chris Oliver on Saturday night as the Hogs cruised, 7-0, to win two of three and pull even in the SEC.
Van Horn had challenged his team earlier in the week, calling the series "a must win" after the Hogs lost two of three at Mississippi State. They stepped up big time, especially with starting pitching.
Oliver shut down the Gamecocks on three hits through eight innings, relying on a nasty breaking ball early and then turning to his 95 mph heater late when the visitors were off balance from the curve. Zack Jackson pitched the ninth, allowing one hit to complete the shutout, the Hogs seventh of the season.
Killian gave up two runs in the eighth inning to take a tough-luck loss, 2-1, in the opener Friday night. Beeks went the distance in a 4-1 victory in the nightcap of the Friday doubleheader. Oliver (3-3) was never in trouble Saturday in the finale. He had a career-high 10 strikeouts and threw 61 of his 101 pitches for strikes.
The Hogs plated five in the second inning to make things easy for Oliver. Andrew Benintendi worked a bases loaded walk for the first RBI. They scored three on Joe Serrano's flare to right field with the outfield deep. The third run scored when the rightfielder booted it and then the ball got away from the second basemen as Serrano rolled an extra base. Brian Anderson added an RBI double to make it 5-0.
The Hogs added a run on Wise's suicide squeeze bunt in the fifth. The lead went to 7-0 in the sixth on Benintendi's single, stolen base and Eric Fisher's single through the right side after Anderson was given an intentional pass.
"That's one of our best games of the year," Van Horn said. "It was a total game. Clutch hitting, nice bunts and we made all of the plays in the field. It was Chris Oliver's best night. He had his best breaker and located the fast ball.
"I'm proud of the team for winning the series and getting back in the race."
The Hogs (20-12, 6-6) won their second series of the year. They had won a series from Alabama, losing two of three from Florida and Mississippi State. South Carolina (26-5, 7-5) lost its second series of the season.
Carolina entered the series hitting .301, but they slipped 10 points on the weekend. The Gamecocks got only three runs on 16 hits on the weekend against the rebuilt UA staff.
"Usually, that kind of pitching will win you three," Van Horn said. "But they are a great team and we are rally excited to win the series."
Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said his offense didn't offer much on the weekend and the Hogs got rolling.
"We're in a funk," Holbrook said. "Offensively, that goes without saying. And it's magnified when you face arms like they have and they throw the way they threw."
Oliver impressed the Gamecocks.
"He's got an electric arm," Holbrook said. "He's got a mid-90s fastball and his breaking ball was lights-out, too. He didn't walk anybody, didn't give us any free bases, and we did right out of the shoot and that contributed to that five-run inning.
"We gave up two walks, a bloop and a nubber and they pushed across three or four runs and then their best hitter busts one and the game was essentially over because of who they had on the mound. Credit to Oliver. He had special stuff and he overpowered our guys."
The Gamecocks know they dodged a sweep, something the Hogs did to them in Columbia last year.
"We got beat by a better team this weekend," catcher Grayson Greiner said. "We didn't play to our ability offensively or defensively. We didn't help our pitchers out at all this weekend. We are fortunate to come out of here 1-2 the way we played."
Van Horn said the Hogs pitched better than they did last year in Columbia.
"We swept them there, but we didn't pitch like this," Van Horn said. "I love this staff. Some of our guys have matured. They got to watch last year. (Pitching coach) Dave Jorn has done a great job."
Wise said it's been fun to catch them.
"Everyone kind of questioned this staff," Wise said. "They were all young, but there is depth and they are good. They just needed experience. They are all starting to take off and they get better every time out."
Oliver has blossomed after getting the hook despite leading in the second inning at Florida.
"That was a learning experience," Oliver said. "I had only a fast ball that day and it was up. We had lost twice and you can't risk it at that point.
"I was up in the zone and they were hitting me hard."
Van Horn said, "Looking back, that game at Florida, we'd gone 0-2 losing two one-run games and we were in a tough situation. It was a lot about location. But everything has been lights out since then."
There were four pitches working Saturday. And that made his 95 mph fast ball even better.
"At this level, you have got to have more than a 95 mph fast ball," Van Horn said. "He had his change-up for the lefties. His curve and his slider were working. The fast ball had hard action."
Oliver said, "The curve kept them off the fast ball. It was sharp today. I had command and I could throw it behind in the count. I had trouble with the fast ball to the glove side early, but Coach Jorn moved me to the other side of the rubber and I had it the rest of the way."
Wise said it was masterful.
"The curve worked early, then it setup the fast ball late," he said. "It was his best curve, the sharpness."
Oliver wanted to finish the game. Van Horn said he and Jorn talked about it after the eighth.
"Dave thought he could finish and he could have," Van Horn said. "But I wanted to save an inning. We were good in the bullpen and it was 7-0.
"I went down to him at the other end of the bench after the eighth and told him great job. He said, 'You aren't coming down to tell me I'm done?' Yeah, that's what I did. I wanted to get Jackson out there in that environment."
The Hogs had their biggest crowd of the season, actual of 7,023 in the park. It was a season's best 10,103 tickets sold.
Hogs blank No. 1 Gamecocks, 7-0
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