South Carolina edges Arkansas 6-5; Smith set to pitch against Kentucky on Thursday

By Dudley E. Dawson
on 2024-05-22 17:44 PM


Two of the nation’s five-best college teams will have an early morning wake up call on Thursday morning in Hoover, Ala.

Cole Messina’s ninth-inning, tie-breaking home run was his second of day and lifted 10th-seeded South Carolina over second-seeded Arkansas 6-5 Wednesday afternoon at the SEC Baseball Tournament.

“Great ballgame,” South Carolina head coach Mark Kingston said. “Again, two of the best teams in the country, in my opinion. Could have gone either way… So that’s the team I think we’re capable of being on any given day, and we beat one of the best teams in the country.”

It was the first home that Arkansas freshman closer Gabe Gaeckle (3-3) had given up all season and came after his team had rallied to tie it 4-4 in the seventh.

“That guy has a really, really good fastball and I was sitting dead red fastball because his fastball is so good,” Messina said. “He hung a slider and I thought I took a good swing, realized I got it and was super excited. It was cool.”

That loss puts the Razorbacks (xx-xx) into 9:30 a.m. surprise elimination game on Thursday against third-seeded Kentucky (xx-xx), blasted and run-ruled by 11th-seeded LSU 11-0 earlier in the day.

Razorback head coach Dave Van Horn, who said he will start ace Hagen Smith (9-0, 1.xx ERA) on Thursday, lamented his team not taking full advantage its opportunities against South Carolina.

“Just on our side, just kind of a game of maybe missed opportunities,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “We had a couple of chances to blow it open. Instead of a two-run inning, maybe three or four, one hit away.

“That was disappointing. Give them credit for pitching out of a couple of jams.

“On the other side, as far as our pitching, we hit a guy, hit a two-run homer; hit a guy, hit a two-run homer. First inning, two quick outs and two walks, base hit, he’s behind in the count, throws a fastball; 2-0, base hit, they score a run.”

Kentucky, who beat visiting Arkansas two of three games earlier this month, was limited to one hit in its loss to LSU in Wednesday’s first game.

The Arkansas-Kentucky game will match the SEC Western Division champion vs. the Eastern Divisions and overall co-champ with both teams ranked as top five teams nationally.

“They’re a really good ball club, really well coached,” Arkansas second baseman Peyton Stovall said. “They have a lot of good players. So it’s going to be fun, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Stovall said there is a simple mindset for Arkansas.

“Yeah, just come out, play hard, take it game by game,” Stovall said. “The only thing we’re focused on tomorrow is the game tomorrow.

“So hydrate, sleep well, get some rest, come out here and play hard. And if we play hard, I don’t think anybody is going to be upset. So that’s the number one thing to do.”

Parker Noland’s RBI single off Arkansas starter Ben Bybee put South Carolina up in the bottom of the first, but Razorback Jared Sprague-Lott’s run-scoring single tied it 1-1 a half-inning later.

Messina got the first of his five RBIs on the day in the third when his single plated Austin Brinling for a 2-1 edge.

Arkansas knocked out South Carolina starting pitcher Eli Jones and tied it 2-2 in the fourth via Ben McLaughlin’s walk, a Gamecock error and pinch hitter Ryder Helfrick’s sacrifice fly.

Messina’s first two-run, tie-breaking homer occurred in the fifth, made it 4-2 and came off new Arkansas pitch Parker Coil, who hit Blake Jackson to lead off the fifth.

“Well, the first ball that went out of the park,” Van Horn said. “Obviously it was a breaking ball and he was sitting on it, and it wasn’t down enough, and he hammered it. He didn’t try to pull it. Good hitter.

“The one off Coil, Coil hits the first batter he faces, a left-handed hitter that’s somebody we really needed him to get out, and then I was still finishing up my (television in-game) interview, so I’m not sure exactly what pitch he hit, but he hit it, and I watched it.

“I mean, he’s dangerous,” Van Horn said of Messina. “When we played them over there earlier in the season, he was the guy that we would not let beat us. As a matter of fact, I know we intentionally walked him in one big situation when the game was on the line we felt like.

“But we also had first base open. Might have been runners at second, third, two down, and we went ahead and put him on. Yeah, you know, he made us pay when we made a mistake.”

Still Arkansas rallied to tie it 4-4 with a pair of runs on four hits in the bottom of the seventh.

Will Edmunson and Kendall Diggs both singled to knock off South Carolina reliever Ty Good, who was replaced by Garrett Gainey (1-3).

Stovall greeted him with an RBI doubled to cut it to 4-3, Hudson White walked to load the bases and Laughlin’s sacrifice fly tied it 4-4.

But Gainey got out of the jam by fanning Wehiwa Aloy and getting Sprauge-Lott to fly out.

Arkansas turned to Gaeckle and he pitched a scoreless eighth, but hit Jackson leading off the ninth and Messina cranked his 19th home run of the season over the fence.

It gave Messina three blasts and and 8 RBIs in the last two days.

Arkansas did a run back in the ninth when Stovall, White and McLaughlin all had one out single to cut it 6-5.

But Gainey got Aloy to hit into a fielder’s choice and Sprague-Lott to foul out to end it.

Photo courtesy of Razorbacks Communications

(Last updated: 2024-05-22 17:44 PM)