BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
For the second straight night at Baum-Walker Stadium, it was pitching and timely hitting that led to a win on the diamond.
It was just a different victor than the one that walked away happy on Friday night.
Jack Mahoney provided an inspirational start for No. 6 South Carolina in a 3-1 decision over No. 3 Arkansas Saturday night before an announced crowd of 10,432.
Gamecocks head coach Mark Kingston was effusive in praise of Mahoney, who pitched seven innings of shutout baseball while allowing five hits, fanning six and walking two.
“Obviously Jack Mahoney tonight was the story,” Kingston said. “He was incredible. Probably one of the best pitching performances we have had here in a long time under the circumstances – on the road, in a great ball park, great crowd, team we are playing.”
Arkansas (37-13, 18-8) remained atop the SEC standings even with the loss as Mississippi State rallied to win at LSU (39-11, 17-8) on Saturday and Florida (39-12, 17-9) beat Vanderbilt (35-15, 17-9) for the second time in two days.
The Razorbacks will try to win the series when Hunter Hollan (6-2, 4.15) takes the mound Sunday at 2 p.m and matches up against Matthew Becker (4-1, 4.46) in the rubber game.
“I’m very confident,” Van Horn said. “I’m confident in our team. I want to see how they react after they got beat. We haven’t lost a conference game in a while, haven’t lost at home in a while. Didn’t do anything tonight really. Just kind of played.
“Didn’t really mess up, but didn’t do anything. I hope they bounce back and play really well tomorrow. And very confident with him (Hollan) on the mound.
Mahoney thrived in a moment that he acknowledged that he had been dreaming of being in, a place that Arkansas is 29-4 at this season.
“I was telling everyone in there after the start that – and I am not going to lie tonight – but Arkansas is the one place in the SEC that I have always wanted to pitch,” Mahoney said. “And this place did not let me down.”
Down 3-0, Arkansas looked to be threatening in the bottom of the seventh when Brady Slavens and Peyton Holt led off with singles.
Arkansas pinch hit Jayson Jones for Parker Rowland and his hard-hit grounder turned into a double play before Jack Bolton fanned to end the seventh.
“In that seventh inning, I kind of had to remind myself that I have a job to do,” Mahoney said. “That kid (Holt) kind of hit the nubber over (shortstop) Talmadge (Lecroy) and I get the ball back and I am looking around and it was the one of – no, it was the loudest thing that I have ever heard in my life.
“I just kind of stopped, and taking a breath (because) I knew that I had a righty coming up instead of that lefty and I knew I just had to get it in on him and execute.
“This place is different here.”
Kingston’s squad has lost 4-1 on Friday night as the Razorbacks extended their SEC winning streak to seven.
“For him to come through like that after a heartbreaker yesterday just tells you every thing that you need to know about him – his talent, but also his competitiveness,” Kingston said of Mahoney.
Arkansas did cut it to 3-1 in the eighth on Jace Bohrofen’s RBI single off South Carolina closer Chris Veach and brought the tying run to the plate, but could get no closer.
The win ended a seven-game SEC losing streak for South Carolina (37-13, 15-10), who began the slate 9-1 and was 37-6 overall before the skid.
“We are a resilient group and have been fighting it for a little bit now,” Kingston said. “We have been playing some great teams, on the road predominately, while banged up and just trying to fight through it, and keep our head above water until we could get back healthy and get that group back that we had for the great majority of the year.
“A win like that allows you to do that.”
South Carolina was held in check through the first three innings by Arkansas starting pitcher Brady Tygart, making his third start since being out for nearly two months.
Tygart, on a pitch limit of 40 pitches, ended up throwing 37 while fanning four, allowing one hit and not walking anyone in three scoreless innings.
“I thought he was good, really good,” Van Horn said. “He spotted his fastball in and out. Breaking ball, changeup. And he pitched well.
“You know 37 pitches and 40 was the most we really wanted him to go tonight. It’s always encouraging. He throws well, limited pitches.
“But at the same time you’re thinking about down the road. And down the road is getting here. It’s going to be here before we know it.
“So hopefully we can build him up and next week he can go 50 or who knows what. We’ve got a short week like everybody in the league. So we didn’t want to pitch him too much.”
Van Horn admits it’s tempting to have Tygart go longer, but the pitcher’s health is at the forefront of all decisions.
“I mean obviously it’s tempting,” Van Horn said. “We’d have liked to pitch him five innings tonight if we could. But we just didn’t feel like that was the safe thing to do.
“I don’t know. We’d like to start him down the road but maybe we have to just use him out of the pen in relief. We don’t know how we’re going to handle him yet.
“ We’re just going to let him show us what to do a little bit but also the game is going to tell us what to do and how we need to work our pitching staff to win games. Because really the games from here on out, you get to a certain point and it’s all about elimination.
South Carolina jumped on Razorback reliever Will McEntire for all three of its runs in the fourth.
McEntire (6-3) hit the first batter he faced and then gave up three straight singles with Gavin Casas and Braylen Wimmer’s putting South Carolina up 2-0.
Evan Stone’s two-out run scoring single made it 3-0 before McEntire got out of the frame.
“Teams were kind of feeling each other, trying to figure it out,” Van Horn said. “Then they came out and got on McEntire. I mean, he just didn’t locate in that first inning.
“After that he was really, really good and he gave us an opportunity to win the game. I was proud of him for hanging in there. He just kept getting them out. But their pitchers kept getting us out as well.
McEntire would go pitch five scoreless innings after that while finishing out a game where both teams had six hits and stranded seven base runners.
“We had a certain approach against him in terms of what pitches we were looking for,” Kingston said. “I thought he made some good adjustments along the way and he shut us down the rest of the way. I wouldn’t say that we have the blueprint on how to approach him after the way he pitched tonight, You have got to tip your hat to him.”
The SEC has five teams in the top seven nationally.
“This league is a bitch,” Kingston said. “I don’t know if I can say that, but that is the best way to describe it. It is a grind.
“We have been talking about it lately, as many teams as we are going to have make the NCAA Tournament, you hope we can all get much better and get hot in the postseason because it.
“You hope we don’t beat each other up all year and then we are wiped out for the NCAA Tournament.”