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Arms aplenty as Hogs take on USC

Two of the top pitching staffs in the Southeastern Conference will be showcased this weekend at Carolina Stadium. Arkansas, which sports the third-best staff in the country in terms of earned run average, and South Carolina are set to do battle in a three-game series.

South Carolian sophomore Evan Beal

Entering the season, the Razorbacks (14-7, 1-2) were ranked at or near the top of various preseason polls. They were considered to have one of the top pitching staffs in the country, including front-line starters and a pair of ace relievers out of the bullpen.

“They return an incredible pitching staff,” first-year head coach Chad Holbrook said. “I told our guys yesterday we’re going to face three Friday night starters this weekend, and I certainly believe that. They’re very, very, very good.”

The pitching staff has lived up to the preseason hype sporting a 1.81 ERA with a WHIP of 1.03. The staff has 165 strikeouts against 61 walks over 188.2 innings pitched and also sports some of the top names in the college game. Junior Ryne Stanek is up for the Golden Spikes Award while Barrett Astin and Colby Suggs were named to the Stopper of the Year Award watch list.

Stanek hasn’t performed quite at his best this season and was bumped down a day in the starting rotation. Astin was moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation this year and has put up quality numbers as he enters the weekend as the team’s Friday night starter.

“I think for our players' sake, for those that were involved in those games in Omaha and even in Fayetteville last year, they know how good they are and that we have a heck of a challenge ahead of us,” Holbrook said.

While the Razorbacks have performed like one of the nation’s elite on the mound, the Gamecocks (18-3, 2-1) aren’t too far behind. The staff has a 2.18 ERA, which is good for third in the league, and also lead the conference with 11 saves. South Carolina has more strikeouts (183 to 165) and fewer walks (52 to 61) than Arkansas in the same amount of games played. That’s also without ace Jordan Montgomery, who has been out the last two weeks and will be out at least two more with an arm injury.

In his absence, sophomore Evan Beal is beginning to make a name for himself within the league. He’s 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA allowing just one run over his two starts. For the season, he has 16.0 innings pitched and 21 strikeouts to his credit.

Holbrook mentioned freshman Jack Wynkoop and senior Colby Holmes when contemplating his Sunday starter. As usual, it came with the caveat that who pitches on Sunday will have to do with who he needs to use on Friday and Saturday in an effort to get a win.

Arkansas junior Ryne Stanek

“I’m not leaning in any direction,” Holbrook said. “If we have to use Wynkoop or Colby Holmes to help us win Saturday, we might just do it. We try to win our next game around here, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
While the Arkansas pitching staff has performed at the level forecasted entering the season, the team, as a whole, has not. Apart from a few, the hitters have failed to put up a lot of runs, which has nullified some great performances on the mound.

The Razorbacks have scored only four fewer runs than the Gamecocks have this season but this weekend’s visitors are having a hard time finding that big hit when needed. About a quarter of UA’s total run output came in a two-game series against Alabama A&M. Subtracting out that two-game series, Arkansas has scored 25 runs in 10 games in March.

Runs should be at a premium this weekend

The series-opener is set for 7:30 p.m. on Friday and will be broadcast on CSS with streaming available on ESPN3. Saturday’s game will begin at 3:15 p.m. and will be televised on Fox Sports South. The Sunday finale is set for 1:30 p.m. without television coverage.

Pitching matchups

Friday:
RHP Evan Beal - 2-0, 0.56 ERA, 16.0 IP, 3 BB, 21 K
RHP Barrett Astin - 1-1, 1.90 ERA, 23.2 IP, 4 BB, 13 K

Saturday:
LHP Nolan Belcher - 4-1, 1.25 ERA, 36.0 IP, 1 BB, 37 K
RHP Ryne Stanek - 1-1, 3.32 ERA, 21.2 IP, 13 BB, 20 K

Sunday:
TBA - (Likely LHP Jack Wynkoop)
LHP Randall Fant - 1-0, 1.12 ERA, 16.0 IP, 0 BB, 13 K

Scouting the hitters

Top average: Tyler Spoon (.346); Matt Vinson (.324)
Doubles: Brian Anderson (4)
Home runs: Tyler Spoon (3)
RBIs: Tyler Spoon (26)
Steals: Jacob Morris (6-for-6)

Quick hitters

-- Since moving to the leadoff spot, Jake Mahan is hitting .387 and has an on-base percentage of .568. The second baseman has a .322 average and .474 on-base percentage for the season in 17 starts and 18 games played. He’s currently on a nine-game hitting streak.

-- After being ranked in various preseason polls as the No. 1 team in the country, Arkansas is now ranked 16th by the NCBWA, 17th in the USA Today/Coaches poll, 21st by Baseball America, and 28th by Collegiate Baseball. Under head coach Dave Van Horn, the Razorbacks have made the NCAA Tournament every year, which is a string of 10 consecutive appearances. Arkansas has made three College World Series trips during that time.

-- Arkansas hold a 32-28 edge in the all-time series with South Carolina winning 14 of the 24 games played in Columbia. The Gamecocks, however, have won four of the last six meetings, all of which came last year, and seven of the last 10.

-- Freshman Trey Killian was SEC Freshman of the Week after tossing seven no-hit innings with seven strikeouts against San Diego State two weeks ago. He was moved into the starting rotation against Mississippi but was roughed up allowing seven earned runs on five hits over three innings against the Rebels.

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