Arkansas Fans Answer Hometown Announcer’s Plea + More from Game 1 Win at South Carolina

Gabe Gaeckle, Hagen Smith, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs South Carolina
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

Arkansas had to sweat it out in the ninth inning, but like it has so many times this season, it hung on Friday night.

Stone Hewlett recorded the final out of the game to strand the tying and go-ahead runs on base and seal the No. 2 Razorbacks’ 2-1 series-opening win over No. 20 South Carolina in Columbia, S.C.

Not only did that cap yet another dominant pitching performance, but it improved Arkansas to 8-2 in one-run games this year — including three straight wins by that margin. The Razorbacks (33-5, 13-3 SEC) also swept their two-game midweek series against Texas Tech with a pair of one-run victories.

It’s hard to ignore the pitching, though, as Arkansas limited the Gamecocks (26-12, 8-8) to only one run on four hits while racking up 16 strikeouts.

“Just, wow, what a great game,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “A lot of pitching, some decent defensive plays and…it just seemed like both teams just kept getting out of jams. I thought our pitching staff was amazing again.”

The last jam of the night came in the bottom of the ninth when, down to his final strike, pinch hitter Blake Jackson kept South Carolina alive with a two-out double. An intentional walk of Cole Messina put the winning run on base, but Hewlett — the Razorbacks’ left-on-left specialist — got Parker Noland to ground out to first to end the game.

Neither team had a particularly great day at the plate. The two teams combined to go just 8 for 58 (.138), including 2 for 31 (.065) with runners on base, and struck out 27 times, resulting in 24 total men left on base.

That meant there was quite a bit of action with several intense moments even with the lack of scoring, but the atmosphere at Founders Park didn’t exactly rise to the occasion.

Throughout the game, SEC Network-Plus color analyst Kip Bouknight called out the announced crowd of 8,242 for sitting on its hands and not making enough noise. Not only is he part of the Gamecocks’ hometown announcer crew, but Bouknight is one of the best players in South Carolina baseball history. He won the Golden Spikes Award in 2000 and his number was retired by the school.

“I’m still a little bit amazed by the lack of energy and atmosphere here at Founders Park,” Bouknight said in the top of the ninth. “The No. 2 team comes to town, you’d just think there’d be a little bit more. … You want to make it really tough for them. It’s just been kind of eerily quiet tonight.”

A few minutes later, Bouknight got his wish — just maybe not in the way he was envisioning. The Razorbacks loaded the bases with a walk by Kendall Diggs and a Hog Call could be heard clearly over the broadcast, not to mention the numerous beer hats seen scattered throughout the stadium.

For at least a moment, the stadium modeled after the Razorbacks’ home ballpark felt like Baum-Walker Stadium East.

“It might be the loudest I’ve heard the crowd all night. South Carolina’s gotta do something to figure it out with the in-game music played, whatever it may be. You’ve gotta make this place a little bit tougher to play. … When you’re on the road, it’s a lot louder than we’re seeing here tonight.”

To its credit, the crowd did get louder in the bottom of the ninth, but by then, it was too late and Hewlett slammed the door for his fourth save of the season.

Here are a few other takeaways from Game 1 of the Arkansas vs South Carolina series…

Smith Sensational Again

By now, what Hagen Smith did against South Carolina on Friday has become expected. That doesn’t mean his performance was any less impressive, though.

All the left-hander did was turn in yet another quality start — his eighth in 10 starts — against the No. 20 team in the country on the road, scattering two hits and five walks across six innings in which he gave up just one earned run. He also racked up 11 strikeouts, marking the seventh time he’s reached double digits this year.

Granted one of them was intentional, but Smith’s five walks were a season high, edging out the four he had against Ole Miss earlier this month. Of course, that came against the nation’s leader in walks, as South Carolina entered the weekend with a whopping 263 in 37 games. Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn didn’t sound too concerned about the free passes.

“They have a good approach and they’ll fight you with a couple strikes,” Van Horn said. “When you pitch like that, you’re going to walk people every now and then. Throwing the ball in the mid-90s the whole game with a plus slider and changeup and probably a little splitty there or whatever, it is what it is.”

Most of Smith’s outing came with runners on base, but he worked around them. Even when the Gamecocks broke up the shutout with a run in the fifth inning, he limited the damage.

With the bases loaded and one out, Parker Noland hit a ground ball to the left side of the infield that third baseman Nolan Souza managed to snag, but he couldn’t get the ball out of his glove quick enough to make an out. That brought one run home, but that was it. An intentional walk by Ethan Petry loaded the bases again before Smith got Dalton Reeves to look at strike three to end the threat.

Things got a little shaky an inning earlier, too, when Smith plunked Noland in a 2-2 count and then walked Dalton Reeves on four pitches with one out. After a visit from pitching coach Matt Hobbs, he responded with a strikeout and ground out to preserve the shutout.

Smith’s ERA remained at 1.53 and he reached 100 strikeouts for the season, all while allowing just 22 walks in 53 innings. Opponents are hitting just .136 against hit and he owns an impressive 0.87 WHIP.

Gaeckle Dominant in Relief

As good as Hagen Smith was, he may have been overshadowed by a freshman. Right-hander Gabe Gaeckle nearly finished it off for his seventh save, but ended up throwing only 2 2/3 innings, matching a career high.

In addition to being scoreless, Gaeckle retired the first eight Tigers he faced, Five of those batters went down on strikes. He was one strike away from a three-out save when Blake Jackson hit the aforementioned double to keep the game going.

The most impressive part of his outing the beginning of it, as he inherited runners on first and second with no outs and the top of the order coming up. Gaeckle got a couple of fly outs before striking out Petry, South Carolina’s top hitter.

“Brought in Gabe Gaeckle and he put out the fire,” Van Horn said. “He got through that inning with no damage. He gave us 2 2/3 and struck out five hitters and just pitched great. He threw 42 pitches and we felt like that was good. He was getting ready to go through that lineup again and we thought we’d just go with the left on left matchup.”

That has been a trend for Gaeckle, who has been thrust into high-leverage situations in virtually all of his 14 appearances this season. In fact, only one of the 17 runners he’s inherited this season has come around to score.

“He comes into the game with a little bit of calmness to him and I think he’s probably calm because he knows how good his stuff is,” Van Horn said. “He trusts it and he just attacks. They have to figure out how to hit a pitch that’s 96-97 and he dumps a slider in there. He’s got a really good changeup that lefties have a lot of trouble with. He’s confident. He’s good.”

Van Horn honestly might have been shorting him some velocity, too, as the SEC Network-Plus broadcast — which apparently had access to TrackMan data — mentioned he touched 98 mph at one point during his outing.

Hogs Punch Back With Small Ball

One of the top trends of this year’s Arkansas baseball team has been its ability to respond when its elite pitching staff does give up a run or two. That’s what happened again Friday night.

South Carolina scored its lone run in the bottom of the fifth inning and then, in the top of the sixth, the Razorbacks answered with two of their own — with small ball playing a key role in it.

It started with Ben McLaughlin and Nolan Souza drawing back-to-back walks to open the inning and then Peyton Holt was asked to move them up a base with a sacrifice bunt. He laid one down the third base line and actually beat the throw to turn it into a rare bunt single.

“Really, really good bunt by Holt,” Van Horn said. “It was just going to be a sacrifice and he laid a beauty down and beat it out. (The first baseman) got pulled off. The grass was really, really wet. From about the fifth inning on the grass was super wet. Water was coming up.  The third baseman probably didn’t get a good grip on that.”

That loaded the bases and Arkansas finally got on the board when Chris Veach’s pitch bounced by the catcher, Cole Messina, for a run-scoring wild pitch. It also allowed the other two runners to move up, setting the stage for Jack Wagner’s go-ahead sacrifice fly.

That was the difference in a 2-1 game in which the Razorbacks mustered only four hits and went 1 for 19 (.053) with runners on base, resulting in 14 players getting stranded.

“Just proud of the way they found a way to score,” Van Horn said. “Things weren’t going our way. … We were so close to breaking that thing open like three different times. We just needed one big hit or something to drop and it never happened. We found a way to hang on.”

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

With the win Friday night, the Razorbacks now just have to split Saturday’s doubleheader to win the series in Columbia, S.C.

Arkansas and South Carolina are playing two because the forecast on Sunday doesn’t look promising and, because it’s the second day of the series, both games will be a full nine innings. First pitch is scheduled for noon CT and there will be a one-hour break in between the two games.

Left-hander Mason Molina (3-0, 3.32 ERA) and right-hander Brady Tygart (3-1, 2.59 ERA) are slated to start for the Razorbacks, who also have right-handers Will McEntire and Koty Frank — among other relievers — fresh and waiting in the bullpen.

The Gamecocks held ace right-hander Eli Jones (3-1, 3.57 ERA) back for Game 2, but their third starter has not yet been announced.

It’s just the second doubleheader of the year for Arkansas, with the first being back on March 9 when it beat McNeese State 3-1 and 11-1 to open the series. SEC Network-Plus will stream both of Saturday’s games.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston was ejected with two outs in the top of the ninth inning for arguing with home plate umpire Mark Winters about a hit by pitch call that gave Peyton Holt first base. However, he was likely still fuming from an argument the previous half inning, when he appeared to be upset with something related to the pitch clock.
  • After being held out of the two midweek games against Texas Tech because of a lingering shoulder injury, Kendall Diggs was back in the lineup and playing right field Friday night. He went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts, a walk and a HBP. According to the SECN+ broadcast, Diggs originally suffered the injury diving into a base during the McNeese State series, which was March 9-10.
  • With 11 more against the Gamecocks, Hagen Smith now has 100 strikeouts in 2024. It’s the 16th time an Arkansas pitcher has reached triple digits in a single season and, having finished with 109 last year, Smith is just the fourth to do it twice, joining David Walling, Nick Schmidt and Matt Carnes.
  • Smith also inched closer to the all-time strikeouts record at Arkansas. He now has 299, which is just behind Carnes (301) for second in UA history. Schmidt holds the career record with 345.
  • Wehiwa Aloy finished just 1 for 4, but his lone hit was a first-inning double that extended his on-base streak to 28 games. That is by far the longest such streak by an Arkansas baseball player this year, with the closing being a 20-game streak by Peyton Stovall.
  • Left-hander Stone Hewlett picked up his fourth save of the season by retiring the lone batter he faced. As a team, the Razorbacks now have 19 saves, which is tied for the fifth-most in school history. The record is 26 set in 2018, with three others seasons — 2011, 2021 and 2022 — tied for second at 20. With 17 regular-season games remaining, not to mention the postseason, Arkansas will have a chance to break that mark.
  • South Carolina starter Roman Kimball looked pretty good through the first 2 1/3 innings, racking up four strikeouts and retiring seven of the first eight batters he faced, but had to leave the game with an apparent thumb injury.

Arkansas vs South Carolina Highlights (Game 1)

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Postgame Interviews

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Arkansas vs South Carolina Box Score (Game 1)


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