Another Dandy

HOOVER, Ala. -- Maybe there's something different in the water down in Alabama. Whatever it is, Arkansas pitchers need to keep drinking the stuff.

For the third day in a row, the Razorbacks got a stellar effort on the mound at the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Saturday, it was junior Duke Welker who came up with the latest gem, holding South Carolina to one run over seven innings as 15th-ranked Arkansas held off the No. 9 Gamecocks, 3-2, in front of a crowd of 7,202 at Regions Park. The win moves the Diamond Hogs (41-18) to a perfect 3-0 in the SEC Tournament and sends Arkansas into the championship game for the first time since 1999. "Again for the third time I'm able to start out by saying it was just another outstanding pitching performance by Duke Welker," Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn said. "He just did a great job and honestly, he had another inning in him. But he had a little blister on his (throwing) hand and we didn't want to get him hurt. "It wasn't that he was tired or we didn't have confidence in him. We just didn't want to get him hurt before the regionals next week." After struggling through a five-week stretch in which he picked up no wins and accounted for three of Arkansas' final five losses in SEC play, Welker (6-5) was back in top form against the Gamecocks. Limiting South Carolina (42-18) to seven hits over seven innings, Welker showed great command -- with no walks and eight strikeouts -- and found a way to get out of every jam thanks to solid defense behind him. "I knew I don't think I could have topped the performance by (Jess) Todd (Thursday)," Welker said. "But I just tried to play my game, get ahead and let my defense do the work." The defense certainly did its part. Led by three diving highlight reel plays at second base by Ben Tschepikow and an outfield assist at home plate by Casey Coon, Arkansas managed to fight off nearly every rally South Carolina tried to muster. And then, of course, there was Welker, who fought through a rough first three innings -- where he allowed six hits -- to shut down the Gamecocks just enough to get the win. "Duke is going to be a great player one day and he was great today," Arkansas catcher Brian Walker said. "He shows flashes of it and today it was really easy. That was the biggest thing, a lot of times he tries to do too much. But today was really easy, his delivery was really smooth and that's why he made some quality pitches." "We haven't been making pitches at the right time. Today we just pitched. You know, Duke throws hard but today he made pitches." Travis Hill followed up Welker and worked out of a bases loaded, no-out jam in the eighth inning before finishing off the Gamecocks in the ninth. For the Razorbacks, it was much of the same as it's been all week long. Great pitching, timely hitting and solid defense. And now, those three key elements have Arkansas in place it hasn't been in nine years -- the SEC Tournament finals. Arkansas scratched out a single run in the second and two more in the third for an early 3-0 lead. Jeff Nutt's single drove home Logan Forsythe in the second for the first run. Jake Dugger added an RBI single and Casey Coon drove in the Hogs' third run with a groundout. "When you look at all the teams and you look at Arkansas, they've got a pretty solid team all around," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. "And they've had outstanding pitching. Not good pitching, but outstanding pitching and Welker was right there among that group. "So like I said the other day, I don't want to jinx them. But I like their chances as they move forward."

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