USC has 4 losses in 6 conference contests
Throughout the first third of the season, South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said good pitching and defense were the keys to USC’s early success.
In three games against Arkansas over the weekend, there was a shortage of both. As a result, the Gamecocks were swept at home for the first time since 1999. This weekend was also just the fifth time that USC has been swept at home since joining the SEC in 1992.
With Sunday’s 5-3, 11-inning loss, the Gamecocks (18-6, 2-4 SEC) are off to their second consecutive slow conference start. Last year, the team lost five of its first six league games to begin the season.
“It was a frustrating weekend for us,” Holbrook said. “(Arkansas) came into Carolina Stadium and swept us, and that is no easy task.”
The Gamecocks were blown out 15-3 on Friday night and fell 4-2 on Saturday. They committed four errors in the three-game series after only registering 16 in the first 21 games of the season.
Sophomore shortstop Joey Pankake had three of those errors, and two of them came in the seventh inning of Saturday’s game on attempted throws to first base, leading to two runs for the Razorbacks.
Pankake has eight of USC’s 20 errors on the season, and Holbrook said the two errant throws Saturday are a cause for worry.
“When your shortstop isn’t making plays, that’s a concern,” Holbrook said. “Shortstops at South Carolina have to make both of those plays. We just have to try and keep his confidence up. He is a gifted player, but his errors were magnified today because they led to two runs, and ultimately we lost by two.”
Pankake took responsibility for the errors and said it was his job to come through for the pitcher.
“Those were tough plays and this is baseball and people make mistakes,” Pankake said. “(Nolan) Belcher is pitching and he’s getting ground balls and we have to make plays behind him.”
Arkansas was able to dominate offensively for most of the series, especially Friday night when it scored nine runs in the fourth inning.
Sophomore Evan Beal took his first loss of the year in the series opener, allowing eight earned runs and four walks in 3.2 innings pitched. Holbrook said after the game that he hopes Beal will use the bad outing as a learning experience for the rest of the season.
“He’s just got to learn that when some things go wrong in an inning, he’s got to learn to work himself out of it,” Holbrook said.
The Gamecocks had opportunities to get a win in the series, particularly on Sunday. After USC took a 1-0 lead in the first inning thanks to an RBI single by first baseman LB Dantzler, the Razorbacks scored once in the second and twice in the fourth to take a 3-1 lead.
USC tied it up in the bottom of the seventh when designated hitter Erik Payne knocked a two-out RBI single into right field and sophomore outfielder Tanner English drew a walk with the bases loaded to tie the game at three.
However, senior third baseman Chase Vergason flied out to center with the bases loaded to end the inning, and the Gamecocks were unable to take the lead.
USC also had the bases loaded with two outs in the eighth, but Payne grounded out to end the inning. In the top of the eleventh, Arkansas’ Matt Vinson connected on a two-out, bases loaded, two-run single that was just out of the reach of Pankake’s glove to give the Razorbacks a lead they would not give up.
USC was able to win 17 of its final 23 SEC games, including 12 in a row at one point during the season. Dantzler expressed confidence in his team’s ability to rebound from the losses.
“By no means is this the end of our season,” Dantzler said. “We obviously didn’t want to come here and get swept, that is kind of the worst case scenario. But we will bounce back.”