The Gamecocks had a fantastic opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, going on the road to #12 overall seed East Carolina and sweeping the Greenville Regional to advance to the next round. While some other teams with high expectations struggled, the Gamecocks looked like they were returning to a more familiar postseason form, with strong pitching and defense holding their opponents in check and clutch hitting coming through when they needed it.
South Carolina now faces a familiar opponent in the Super Regional round as they head to Fayetteville to take on Arkansas. The Gamecocks have already played the Razorbacks four times this season and are 1-3 in those games. During the regular season Carolina won the opening game against Arkansas, then was shut out in a doubleheader of 7-inning games for their last series loss of the season. The two teams met again in Hoover just a couple of weeks ago, where Arkansas won 13-8. The teams will have faced each other at least six times by the time the weekend is over, which will mark the most times the Gamecocks have played a single opponent in one season since 2012, when they also played the Razorbacks six times. That year the two teams met in Omaha three times, with the Gamecocks losing the first matchup to drop in to the elimination bracket, then winning two games against the Hogs to advance to the championship series.
Like the Gamecocks, the Razorbacks swept their regional last weekend, winning three consecutive games to advance to Super Regionals. Arkansas has had an impressive season, with a 42-18 overall record and a ridiculous 33-3 home record in Fayetteville. South Carolina is responsible for handing Arkansas one of those three losses in Baum Stadium and will need to add a couple more if they want to keep their season going.
The regular season series matchup between the teams was notable partly because of how low-scoring it was. The Gamecocks held one of the best offenses in the SEC to just 7 runs over three games, while scoring only 3 runs themselves. The formidable Arkansas offense was much more clearly on display in Hoover, where the Hogs looked like the team that was near the top of the SEC in almost every offensive statistical category this year. The Razorbacks have hit 90 home runs, with three different players tied for the team lead with 13 homers. Freshmen Heston Kjerstad (.344/.428/.577) and Casey Martin (.336/.416/.569) lead the Razorback offense. Fortunately, the Gamecocks have some offensive power of their own and should be able to keep up with Arkansas if they can take advantage of their opportunities against the Arkansas pitchers.
The Gamecocks will definitely have their work cut out for them against a talented Arkansas pitching staff that held them in check well in previous meetings this year. Neither team has officially announced a starting pitching rotation for the weekend, but the Razorbacks are likely to begin the series with their ace, junior RHP Blaine Knight (2.74 ERA, 88 SO, 22 BB). The Gamecocks will probably also see junior LHP Kacey Murphy (2.86 ERA, 74 SO, 16 BB). The third starter for Arkansas would be junior RHP Isaiah Campbell (4.17 ERA, 60 SO, 26 BB). All three of those pitchers are coming off of good starts in the regional round and were taken in the MLB draft this week.
South Carolina is also likely to stick with the starting rotation they used in the regional round last weekend. That would send junior RHP Adam Hill (3.99 ERA, 98 SO, 50 BB) to the mound first. Sophomore RHP Cody Morris (3.68 ERA, 83 SO, 30 BB), who looked incredible in his start against ECU last weekend, would follow in the second game. Freshman RHP Carmen Mlodzinski (4.84 ERA, 42 SO, 20 BB) is likely to get the ball in the third game if it is played. The Gamecocks starters are backed up by bullpen that has been increasingly reliable and one of the best defenses in the country, so if they can do their part this weekend then Carolina should have a shot at slowing down the Arkansas offense.
USC vs Arkansas Stats
The winner of this series will advance to the College World Series in Omaha as one of the final eight teams with a chance to play for the national title. This is the third time in six seasons that Carolina has played in the Super Regional round, but the Gamecocks have not advanced to the CWS since 2012. They have a hard task ahead as they try to get back to Omaha this year by going through the #5 national seed on the road, but if they can continue to play at a high level then they have a chance to pull off the upset.
Game 1: Saturday, 6:30 p.m.
Game 2: Sunday, 3 p.m.
Game 3: Monday, 7 p.m. (If Necessary)
How to Watch: Saturday’s game will be on ESPN2. Sunday’s game will be broadcast on ESPN, as will the Monday game if it’s played.
How to Listen: Every game can be heard on 107.5 The Game & The Gamecock Radio Network