FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas had much “Moore” than the South Carolina Gamecocks could cope with in Thursday night’s opener of a SEC 3-game baseball series at the Gamecocks’ Founders Park in Columbia, S.C.
Second baseman Robert Moore’s two home runs, a solo shot for a 1-0 lead in the second inning and a mammoth 2-run clout breaking a 1-1 tie in an eventual 3-run seventh, spoiled an otherwise good start by South Carolina’s Thomas Farr before the Razorbacks added eighth and ninth inning runs off relievers completing a 6-1 SEC success
Coach Dave Van Horn’s nationally No. 1 Razorbacks take 31-6 overall and SEC West leading 12-4 records into today’s doubleheader against Coach Mark Kingston’s nationally 11th-ranked Gamecocks, now 24-11 overall, 10-6 in the SEC East.
On the SEC+ Internet video and the Razorbacks Radio Network, Arkansas and South Carolina play a doubleheader at 1 p.m. (CDT) and 6 p.m. (CDT) Friday because of an all day rain forecast for Saturday when the series normally would be completed.
While Moore, 3 for 4 with three RBI, Christian Franklin and Brady Slavens, each 2 for 5 with an RBI, and Zack Gregory, a surprise 2-out bunt single scoring from third Casey Opitz, initially on base via an error, provided the offense, Razorbacks pitchers Caleb Bolden, Ryan Costeiu, Caleb Monke and Kevin Kopps, limited the Gamecocks to one run on two hits.
“What a great job by our pitching staff tonight,” Van Horn said.
Usually batting leadoff, Moore batted sixth Thursday night. He seized on it watching Farr retire the first five hitters before homering on Farr’s first 2-out pitch to him in the second.
“I saw him throwing a lot of fastballs to left-handers,” Moore, a switch-hitter batting left-handed against right-handed Farr. “Normally they try and go down and away, but he was kind of missing over the plate a little bit. So I was just trying to jump one, and I was able to get one.”
Despite the disadvantage of an 0-2 count, Moore really got hold of the 2-run launch pulled over right following Franklin’s leadoff single in the seventh.
“Our approach (on 0-2) is take the fastballs the other way and the breaking balls and changeups to center field,” Moore said. “But he threw me an inside fastball, and my hands just kind of reacted to it.
That was probably the hardest ball I’ve hit all year.”
And filled Van Horn’s bill for batting Moore behind the meat of the order instead of preceding it.
“I put him in the 6-hole because I wanted him to hit behind Franklin,” Van Horn said. “I just felt like it was time to put him in the middle to let him drive in runs. He definitely came through for us tonight.”
Gregory stunned 2-out deep playing Gamecocks third baseman Jeff Heinrich with the RBI bunt single scoring Opitz for the other seventh inning run.
Relievers Wesley Sweatt and John Gilreath respectively were charged with Franklin’s RBI single scoring Greenbrier’s Cayden Wallace in the eighth and Slavens’ RBI single in the ninth after doubling Wallace to third in the eighth.
Because for the previous two SEC weekends the Razorbacks were rained out on Fridays and played Saturday doubleheaders then Sunday as usual affecting their pitching rotation for this series starting Thursday, No. 4 starter Caleb Bolden started Thursday night instead of No. 1 starter Patrick Wicklander who had pitched last Saturday.
Bolden pitched into the fourth exiting with one out after Colin Burgess tied it 1-1 with a RBI double.
Costeiu stranded him at second on a popup and a strikeout.
“Bolden went out and gave us some quality innings,” Van Horn said. “ I thought Costeiu came in and gave us four or five outs.”
However Costeiu opened the sixth walking the first man and hitting the second with a pitch. On came lefty winner Monke, 5-0, facing left-handed Josiah Sightler trying to sac bunt. Monke retired Sightler on a bunt popup and induced Burgess grounding into a Gamecocks deflating doubleplay.
“I thought Monke did a tremendous job,” Van Horn said. “He only threw five pitches and got three outs. It was big to get those without them scoring.”
Kopps, 6-0 with a 1.03 ERA, notched his fifth save, facing the minimum nine batters, including six strikeouts, the final three innings.
Kopps threw just 34 pitches which should leave him something for Friday, Van Horn said.
Up 6-1, Van Horn was asked if he debated pulling Kopps before the ninth to keep him Friday fresher.
“We would have had to have a bigger lead than five runs,” Van Horn said of pulling his ace. “They’re too dangerous of a team. Man, when you get a chance to win, get a win, especially on the road.”
The Razorbacks played not just errorless but superb defense including gems by first baseman Slavens and left fielder Gregory and shortstop Jalen Battles and Moore turning the pivotal doubleplay.
“I thought the defense played outstanding,” Van Horn said.