Somehow even with all the injuries it has suffered this season, Arkansas’ baseball team is in sole possession of the SEC lead and master of its own destiny.

The No. 3 Razorbacks took ownership of that with a 4-1 win over No. 6 South Carolina Friday night before an announced crowd of 10,218 at Baum Stadium.
Kendall Diggs had three RBIs and Arkansas pitchers Hagen Smith and Gage Wood combined to hurl a six-hit gem for the Razorbacks (37-12, 18-7).

“Yeah, they have a really good hitting team,” Van Horn said of the Gamecocks. “They have a lot of power, big and strong. For us to hold them to one run was just… I mean that’s why we won the game, obviously.

“We didn’t hit a whole lot. We’d put together an inning or punch one in here or there in the other ones, but the pitching did it for us today.”

Arkansas was tied with Eastern Division leader Vanderbilt entering the day, but Florida routed the visiting Commodores 10-0 in Gainesville.

LSU (39-10, 17-7) stayed a half-game back of Arkansas with a 12-1 thrashing of Mississippi State in seven innings while Vanderbilt (35-14, 17-8) is now a game back and Florida 38-12, 16-9)

South Carolina head coach Mark Kingston’s Gamecocks (36-14, 14-10 ) has lost seven straight SEC games, but he saw more a team that resembled the one that jumped out to 9-1 start in SEC action.

Kingston also thought the Arkansas-South Carolina game worthy of the College World Series.

“That felt like us out here tonight,” Kingston said. “It really did. That was two really good teams. A 4-1 ballgame and I told the guys that kind of felt like an Omaha game because it was two top five teams, elite pitching on both sides, great defense on both sides.

“They just drove in a couple of more runs than us.”

Arkansas center fielder Tavian Josenberger returned to the Arkansas line up Friday night after missing three weeks with Jared Wegner and Peyton Stovall close to being back in the line up full time.

“I feel like it definitely brings a little confidence later down the road, but we’re rolling right now with what we have,” Josenberger said of getting teammates healthy.

“We’ve been grinding all season with guys out. I don’t think it’s going to change anything when we get guys in. We’re going to keep trying to win baseball games, hopefully make a run.”

Diggs, whose third-inning RBI single started the scoring after Peyton Holt had doubled, agreed with those sentiments.

“Yeah, 100%,” Diggs said. “I think when these guys go down with injuries, we hate seeing it, but the team, we put them on our back. We don’t like seeing it. We’re playing for them. But it’s always really good to see them get back out there to do what they love.”

Van Horn noted that Wegner is on the 27-man roster, but not likely to bat while Stovall will not play as he continues to rest an ailing shoulder.

“He’s still having pain,” Van Horn said of Wegner. “He’s there, but he’s not swinging the bat right now. But he’s available to run and catch the ball and score, run, but I’m not probably going to put him in there to hit this weekend unless it was what we had to do. “

“We’re winning without him and we’d love to have him in there. He’s such a threat and he has power and it would make our lineup a little longer probably, although when he gets in there, who’s coming out? McLaughlin? He’s done a great job, as well. But yeah, he’s real close, but he’s probably not going to play this weekend.”

Smith, Wood and South Carolina starter Eli Jones all pitched outstanding.

“What a pitcher’s duel, honestly,” Van Horn said. “You’ve got Jones and Smith going at it now.

“What a great job by both starting pitchers. Then Gage Wood came in and he was just outstanding. He pretty much peppered the zone. Mostly fastballs. Threw a couple of sliders and obviously a few curveballs.

“He gave us an opportunity to not have to go into our bullpen for another pitcher and that was big for us. It was a really good win.

Kingston was equally impressed.

“That is their two best guys, clearly,” Kingston said of Smith and Wood. “So we made them work, but they are also very talented with elite stuff. They are to square up.

“We only had six hits tonight, but I thought we battled. You tip your cap. That’s their two best guys and they pitched like it tonight.”

Smith, whose first six pitches of the game were balls, went 5 2/3 innings while allowing one run on four hits, fanning seven and walking three and hitting batter.

“He had a really good demeanor about himself out on the mound,” Van Horn said. “He was composed. He pitched, his fastball, I don’t know, the board said 93. I don’t know if it was 93, 92, 94, somewhere in there. That’s enough if you’ve got enough pitches going, and he did.

“He had a couple of four-pitch walks and you’re kinda going what happened, then he’d kind of get it together. If he could kinda make another jump he could give us another inning. But super job. He worked out of a jam or two and gave us an opportunity to win.”

Smith left in favor of Wood after giving up Braylen Wimmer’s two-out RBI single that tied it 1-1 in the top of the sixth.

Wood (2-0) handled the final 3 1/3 innings, getting 10 outs for the Razorbacks with four strikeouts, two hits and no free passes.

“To me, it seemed like he was getting better as it went on a little bit,” Van Horn said. “Came in, he was OK, threw the ball well. His fastball was a tick harder.

“As far as command, it was better in the eighth and ninth, it seemed like to me. He dropped another breaking ball in there in the ninth, but he basically just went at them with fastballs.

“That’s basically what we want him to do, just pitch to both sides of the plate and make them swing, and he did it.”

Wood had a desire to not worry the fans in what turned into his longest outing of the season.

“It was the longest, and I felt really good out there,” Wood said. “In the past, I’ve had trouble finishing it out, and I wanted to make sure I went out there in the ninth, and I just competed and made pitches and didn’t have to give everybody a scare.”

Jones (4-3) came out after issuing a lead off walk to start the sixth on a night when he allowed four hits, fanned 10 and walked a pair.

“Eli was very good,” Kingston said. “He gave us the kind of start we expected to get on a Friday night – 10 strikeouts, 2 walks, 2 earned runs. He looked composed. He had command of all his pitchers and and gave us a chance to win against a really good ball club.”

Jones walked Jace Bohrofen to start the sixth, raced to third on Ben McLaughlin’s single and then scored on Caleb Cali’s double play grounder to put Arkansas up 2-1.

Peyton Holt walked to start the bottom of seventh and moved up on John Bolton’s single one out later before Josenbeger walked to load the bases.

Diggs delivered with a two-run single that pushed Arkansas ahead 4-1.

“I mean you have got to throw strikes,” Kingston said. “For the most part, what did we walk? Five guys and they walked three. That’s a little bit of a difference in the ballgame. You can’t walk leadoff hitters. That’s as old as the game and it cost us.”

Diggs is now 7 of 15 this season with the bases loaded.

“Yeah, you’ve got to lay off those borderline pitches early and he seems to do that,” Van Horn said. “He’s gotten himself ahead in the count a little bit, and then you can guess. Take a shot at something. If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.

“But if you get it you’re going to hit it hard and that’s what I think he did. He looked fastball there and got it. He looked fastball the other day in Starkville and he got it. He did a super job.”

Arkansas, whose 29-3 home record is its best since 2018, will look to clinch the series Saturday at 6 p.m with Brady Tygart scheduled to be the Razorbacks’ starting pitcher.

The game will be televised on ESPN +

Photo courtesy of the University of Arkansas