State of the Hogs: Don't Panic

South Carolina dashed the overall title hopes for Arkansas, but leaders know there is plenty to play for the rest of the way.

The word from the Arkansas leaders after South Carolina nixed their overall title hopes with a three-game sweep on Sunday was simple.

"Don't panic, don't press," said captain James McCann, the Hogs' sophomore catcher after a 5-3 loss to the Gamecocks on Sunday at Baum Stadium.

"Guys with experience know that it's not the time to press. If you've been around baseball, you know it can turn around with one swing of the bat.

"We are going to the place where it turned around last year with one swing. We'd been struggling, then it all busted loose after one big inning against Washington State. We exploded in that regional in Norman."

The Hogs were struggling, down 3-1 going into the eighth inning in that first-round game against Washington State. They blasted through with nine runs and didn't look back until they were in Omaha.

"It's funny how things can turn around so fast in baseball," McCann said. "It's not often everyone is going good at the same time. Usually, you have one or two that can pick you up here and there in the lineup. Unfortunately, we all are going the wrong way at the same time."

Unfortunately, the Hogs lost bell cow Zack Cox, McCann's roommate, on a swing that might have stretched or popped something in the upper portion of his back. Cox has been the SEC's best hitter for most of the year. He's at .431 after a two-for-three day Sunday. He injured himself on a swing just before reaching on a single. He went to the field the next inning, but then came out when his back stiffened.

"If he says he can't go, then he's hurt," McCann said. "You know he's as tough as they come. He wanted to play. He tried. I knew something was wrong when that last inning he was out there a guy struckout, I threw the ball down to him at third and he almost couldn't raise his glove to catch it. Right then, I said, 'Ooops. He's hurt.' He'll get back as soon as he can. We know that."

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said it's the same area where Cox hurt his back last spring.

"This is higher up, in the upper back," Van Horn said. "I appreciate him telling me he couldn't go. That's what you hope players will do. They worked on him a little, then it stiffened up. He got some spasms. Hopefully, he'll be back soon."

Van Horn got some other communication just after that -- from home plate umpire Ray Miller -- that was appreciated, too. Kinda.

UA slugger Brett Eibner had homered in the first inning to give the Hogs a 2-1 lead. Reynolds, playing for Cox, had singled to lead off the eighth with the Hogs down 4-3. Eibner took a slider outside for strike two, then a fast ball that moved low and off the plate to the inside for strike three. Miller told Van Horn that he missed the strike three call.

"He told me between innings," Van Horn said. "I appreciate him telling me, but that was a big call at a big time."

It was clear Miller knew he missed the call because he tolerated two looks back from Eibner and words. He also took the abuse from Van Horn during the rest of that UA at bat.

Eibner shrugged off the call after the game as part of baseball.

"That's out of my control," he said. "I don't call balls and strikes. My job is to put the bat on the ball. I get three pitches. That (missed calls) happens."

Eibner, who has hit 18 home runs, said the Hogs just have to keep plugging, keep working on their hitting.

"We didn't produce this weekend," Eibner said. "Pretty good by the pitchers, but we have to do more at the plate.

"The key is not to press. You can't try to do more than what you can do. Only way is for us to get working and try to respond. You just can't get down on yourself and we have to keep our heads up."

No one was arguing that it was a bitter weekend. The Hogs came in one game back of the SEC lead and leave in second place in the SEC West, out of contention for the overall title with Carolina and Florida left to battle it out this week.

"It's bitter, sure is," McCann said. "We set our goal to win the title. We can't do that now, but the season isn't over. We still have the West to play for and then there's postseason. The fact is we play Tuesday night and that's all we need to worry about.

"Give Carolina credit. They pitched great. They came at us all weekend. They located two pitches with consistency. They'd throw the fast ball in, the slider away. They hit spots and didn't make any mistakes. That's as good as we've seen. When you are hitting spots like that, it's a pretty tough combination."

Van Horn thought Blake Cooper and Sam Dyson were extra special to start the weekend. That was confirmed by Carolina coach Ray Tanner after Saturday's shutout by Dyson.

"I talked to Coach Tanner," Van Horn said. "He said that was the best both of them pitched all year. That's as good as we've seen as a one-two combination. Dyson was 94-97 on the radar gun yesterday. They were good so give them credit.

"But today was a day to hit. These guys today I don't think threw as well. The wind was going out a little. The ball was jumping off the bat. We just didn't get anything done in the middle of our order. We mixed and matched it from the bullpen pretty good and we were right there, just didn't finish it off. But we have to hit better than this."

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