South Carolina flew all the way to Omaha to settle what, to this point, could have been settled in Hoover, Ala.
Two days after facing SEC East rival Florida for the third straight time in the College World Series -- going back to two straight wins over the Gators in the CWS finals last year -- the Gamecocks face another in-conference foe Monday night at 9 ET when they take on Arkansas.
If the regular season matchup between the two teams is any indication, fans in Omaha and watching on ESPN2 could be in for a wild one.
The Gamecocks and Razorbacks both rely on strong pitching, steady defense and timely hitting, but when they met in May, an offensive showcase worthy of the live bat era broke out. The teams combined to score 44 total runs as South Carolina took two of the three games in Fayetteville.
"Yeah, hopefully, that's the plan," South Carolina first baseman -- and the Gamecocks' best hitter -- Christian Walker said Sunday, asked whether to expect more of the same. "They're a great team. They swing the bat. They've got a lot of great arms."
South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner is more concerned with those Arkansas arms and doesn't seem to expect another slugfest.
"You wouldn't think so, but I didn't think we'd see very many [runs] when we went to Arkansas either," Tanner said Sunday following the Gamecocks' workout. "Sometimes just what you think, in baseball, goes the other way. You would think in this park that the score would be low-scoring."
With all three of the SEC's CWS teams on the same side of the bracket, the Gamecocks could conceivably make it all the way to the finals while playing just in-conference teams.
"It's not something that we think is unusual," Tanner said referencing past years when there were three or even four SEC teams in Omaha. "We think that's how good our conference is. Whether we (the SEC) get teams here or not, we always feel like we got caliber teams that can get here. So here we are, playing a conference foe."
That means he and associate head coach Chad Holbrook won't have to go far to find a scouting report on the Razorbacks and starting pitcher Ryne Stanek.
Stanek has a 2.91 ERA and a 7-4 record in 16 starts on the season, but South Carolina was able to get to him in Fayetteville. Pitching with an early six-run lead, Stanek gave up five earned runs and six hits in 5.0 innings of work.
"With Stanek on the mound against us tomorrow -- probably a guy that will be in the top 10 or 12 picks next year in the Major League Draft -- once again our work's cut out for us with a guy on the mound that's as dominating as Stanek is," Tanner said.
South Carolina starter Colby Holmes, who has a 7-1 record and 2.80 ERA, was out with an injury when the two teams met earlier in the season, but there's still plenty of familiarity from both sides.
Holmes had one of the better outings of his career against the Razorbacks in Columbia a season ago when he came one out short of throwing a complete game and allowed just one run.
"We saw Holmes the year before and we didn't do much against him," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. "He's a bulldog. He's a stalky right-hander with good stuff and a good breaking ball. He has hard stuff – 90 or 91 miles per hour – and he's really good. That's why he's pitching."
Tanner and Van Horn consider each other friends and Tanner admits there's very little that each coach probably doesn't know about the other's tendency and personnel. Sometimes that means the game is simplified to who simply hits and pitches the best, he says.
"You don't get surprised a whole lot," Tanner says. "When we're playing a conference foe this time of the year, I'm always sitting over there thinking what can I do to be a little bit unorthodox? Even if I take a chance, you want to get outside the box a little bit at times."
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