Chris Murray: Razorbacks Face Tough Road Test with Gamecocks

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The Arkansas Razorbacks take to the road this weekend for the first time in Southeastern Conference play, and get a chance at some measure of revenge against the team that ended its 2012 season.

Last June, South Carolina benefited from a comical strike zone from home plate umpire Perry Costello, overcoming a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2. That sent the Gamecocks to the championship series, where they came up short in their bid for a third straight national title, losing to Arizona.

Granted, there is not near as much on the line between the two teams this weekend, but the Razorbacks are in need of a spark after losing two of three at home last weekend to Ole Miss. At 14-7 overall, the Hogs have seen their ranking drop to 17th in the USA Today Coaches’ poll, after opening the season as the near-consensus no. 1.

Arkansas’ rotation for the weekend is, in order, Barrett Astin, Ryne Stanek and Randall Fant. It will be interesting to see how Trey Killian is used in a relief role, after the freshman scuffled in his Friday start against Ole Miss. The Gamecocks will throw a formidable collection of arms, including Evan Beal (2-0, 0.56 ERA) tonight and Nolan Belcher (4-1, 1.25 ERA) on Saturday. Belcher also has an active scoreless streak of 26.1 innings. Senior lefty Tyler Webb has eight saves, and there’s no word of his stance on night-putting.

LB Dantzler leads the Gamecocks with a .351 average, and the league with seven home runs. Joey Pankake, which sounds like a gangster nickname, is hitting .343 with five homers. Each of them has won SEC Player of the Week honors in recent weeks.
It’s hard to picture the Hogs going into Columbia and winning the series, especially with the inconsistent offense and lousy defense. Arkansas’ team fielding percentage of .961 has to be at or near the bottom of the league, and its 33 errors more than doubles Carolina’s 16. Look for Arkansas to avoid the sweep, probably behind Stanek on Saturday.

South Carolina is ranked no. 6 nationally by USA Today, and are 18-3 overall and 2-1 in the SEC after winning a series at Missouri last weekend. The Gamecocks’ losses have come to Liberty, Clemson and Missouri.

Tonight’s game is set for a 6:30 start, with a 2:15 start on Saturday and 12:30 on Sunday. All times Central. The first two games of the series can be viewed on

A big weekend series in the Great American Conference is set to begin Saturday in Russellville. Arkansas Tech swept UA-Monticello last weekend to move into first place, just percentage points ahead of Southern Arkansas, which it will host at Tech Field. The Muleriders took two of three from Harding last weekend, but got leap-frogged by the red hot Wonder Boys.

Ryan Taylor has emerged as Tech’s staff ace, with a 5-1 record and 1.99 ERA . He fired six shutout innings in an 8-0 win last week against UAM. Offensively, leadoff man Cesar Abreu is hitting a team-high .402, while Jonathan Finnegan has six home runs and 28 RBIs for the Wonder Boys (10-2 in the GAC, 23-8 overall).

Southern Arkansas (12-3, 19-9) boasts the reigning player of the week and pitcher of the week in the GAC. Philip Menou tossed a four-hit shutout on Sunday against Harding. Shortstop David Hunter capped the Muleriders’ comeback with a walkoff grand slam in a 13-11 win on Saturday, and clubbed another homer in the series finale.

The series was pushed back one day due to the inclement weather. Saturday’s single game is set for a 5 p.m. start, with a doubleheader scheduled for noon Sunday.

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