When the pitching rotation for the weekend series against Arkansas was released, there was one glaring difference for South Carolina - TBA. Forrest Koumas - the normal Sunday starter during SEC play - was bumped up to the Saturday spot. That left Sunday's spot vacant and names began flying around. Even reliever John Taylor and closer Matt Price were mentioned as potential starters. After both pitched during the first two games of the season, there were two names that remained - Steven Neff and Colby Holmes.
"We went back last night and Neff was a little bit anxious about getting the ball today," Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. "He sort of made a move to go get the baseball for today's game, but we're a little bit depleted. Him being in the outfield had to be a consideration. Coach Meyers told me that he really liked the match-up with Colby. Colby was ready and Coach Meyers felt strongly about him being out there today and it worked out great."
Meyers' decision to go with Holmes paid off in a big way. Holmes went longer than any starting pitcher has gone this season for the Gamecocks and was just one out shy of a complete game shutout. A homerun off the bat of Matt Vinson with two outs in the top of the ninth ended the day for Holmes, but it did little to diminish what Holmes accomplished. Holmes went 8.2 innings, giving up just one run, six hits, a walk, a hit batter, and tied a career high with seven strikeouts while throwing 127 pitches.
Holmes - who has been the Sautrday starter for most of the season - was roughed up last week at Ole Miss. That was one of the reasons Holmes lost his starting job and was in limbo of not even getting a start against the Razorbacks.
"It's not that I was upset," Holmes said of losing the Saturday spot. "I knew I had to come out and make a statement to let them know I still wanted it."
"He was a TBA - to be announced - on Sunday," Tanner said. "He didn't get the nod to get the ball today. He's pitched ok for us at times, but at times he's been not so good. We weren't sure if he was getting the ball today, and I think he did make a statement. With the exception of one batter it would have probably been our only complete game of the season. Once they scored a run I said that was enough."
With Holmes on the mound and the depleted outfield, Neff got the start in left. As impressive as Holmes was on the mound, Neff was just as impressive at the plate. Neff entered the game with one homerun and two RBI after hitting a 2-run bomb in Saturday's game. Sunday, Neff drove two homeruns into the Gamecock bullpen and picked up three more RBI as he continues to become more comfortable at the plate.
"He's been getting good looks at lefties and we knew they were going to have a (lefty) out there at the beginning," Tanner said. "I said this before, Steven has been hurt almost his entire career, but we recruited him as a two-way player. His athleticism merits that, but because of his injuries he really hasn't gotten a chance to pitch as much as he'd like to or play. There's never been any doubt about his ability. We needed the help and he's stepped up big for us."
"I think I've knocked some of the rust off," Neff said. "The more AB's I get, the more I get to see the ball. I didn't swing at all my freshmen and sophomore year. I picked up the bat over the summer and within halfway through the summer I hit six homeruns and batted in the mid .300s. I'm just getting back into the swing of things."
Carolina got on the board early, but came away feeling like they should have had more. Peter Mooney led off the game with a single, Scott Wingo was hit by a pitch, and Christian Walker walked to load the bases with no outs. Brady Thomas would get Mooney in from third, but grounded into a 6-4-3 double play in the process. After Jake Williams walked, Adrian Morales went down swinging to end the inning.
The Gamecocks would do the same in the second. Evan Marzilli walked to start the inning and Robert Beary and Neff had back-to-back singles to end Cade Lynch's day. Mooney drove Marzilli home with a a sacrifice fly to right. Wingo followed with a line-drive single to left, but Beary was forced to hold up to make sure it dropped and was gunned down at the plate by Collin Kuhn. Walker grounded into a fielder's choice to short to end the inning and keep the Hogs in the game as the Gamecocks led just 2-0.
Carolina would double the score in the fourth. After Beary sneaked a single into left field, Neff drilled one into the Gamecock bullpen for his second 2-run homerun in as many days.
The Gamecocks would add another in the fifth and one more in the sixth. After a Thomas ground out, Williams was hit by a pitch. Williams advanced to second on a hit-and-run groundout to short by Morales. After a Marzilli walk, Beary ripped one back up the middle with Williams scoring from second to give Carolina a 5-0 lead after five. In the sixth, Mooney led off with a double down the right field line. Wingo laid down a bunt and the the throw from the third baseman hit Wingo in the back, allowing Mooney to score from second.
Neff would deliver his second bomb of the game leading off the 8th inning, taking a 1-0 pitch and delivering it into the bullpen for the second time on the day to give the Gamecocks a 7-0 lead. Neff became the second batter this season to have a multi-homerun game, joining Adam Matthews as the other.
Holmes' complete game shutout attempt would fall just short. After retiring the first two Razorbacks in the ninth and getting ahead 1-2 on Matt Vinson, Holmes left a pitch up that Vinson hit off the railing over the right field fence to get Arkansas on the board and end Holmes' day. Tyler Webb came in to face two batters, failing to record an out. Senior John Taylor came in to induce a fly out of the bat of Kyle Robinson to end the game.
"I knew they were probably going to take me out if they scored or I got into a jam," Holmes said.
With the win South Carolina improved to 41-11 overall and 20-7 in the SEC. Arkansas fell to 33-17 overall and dropped below .500 in conference play with a 13-14 record.
"I'm really happy today about a lot of things," Tanner said. "Our performance on the field was really good. Colby Holmes had a spectacular game and we played good defense. Steven Neff had a pretty good weekend for us. I felt that our fans did a great job for us. (I'm) Very happy about what has transpired."
With Florida's extra-inning win over Vanderbilt, there is now a three-tie atop the SEC East as South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Florida all have 20-7 records heading into the final week of the season.
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