Diamond Hogs face Top 20 showdown at South Carolina

The Gamecocks are using a bit of gamesmanship by changing up their pitching strategy this weekend.
Arkansas reliever Stone Hewlett (Arkansas Athletics)

The No. 2 Arkansas Razorbacks are back on the road for the second weekend in a row for a huge SEC baseball series against the No. 20 South Carolina Gamecocks at Founders Park in Columbia, SC.

The three-game series can be streamed on the SEC Network+. First pitch Friday is at 6 p.m. Saturday’s game begins at 2 p.m., while Sunday’s finale is set for 12:30 p.m., all Central time.

The Razorbacks are 32-5 on the season and lead the Western Division by a game over No. 1 Texas A&M (33-4, 11-4) with a 12-3 record going into the weekend. The Gamecocks are 26-11 overall and 8-7 in the Eastern Division, six games behind SEC and Eastern Division leading Kentucky (31-5, 14-1). The Wildcats are ranked No. 3 behind the Aggies and Hogs in this week’s D1 Baseball Top 25.

The Gamecocks are using a bit of gamesmanship by changing up their pitching strategy this weekend.

Usually, opponents pit their best pitchers against each other in the first game of a series, but tonight South Carolina is holding out their usual first-game starter, junior right-hander Eli Jones (3-1, 3.57 ERA), and throwing sophomore Roman Kimball (2-1, 4.71 ERA) in what appears to be a sacrificial move against the Razorbacks dominant left-handed starter Hagen Smith (7-0, 1.5 ERA).

But that might not be the case. Harper has reportedly been impressing his coaches of late.

It will be only Harper’s second SEC start. Now Harper is no slouch. The Razorbacks’ batting lineup will have trouble against him.

Harper’s holding opponents to a .169 batting average, making him the hardest Gamecock to hit. His last four outings have been very good, so this isn’t great news for the Razorbacks, who had trouble plating runs last week in their series at Alabama, in which they lost two of three to the Crimson Tide.

The Razorbacks seemed to get their bearings back at the plate with a mid-week sweep of Texas Tech, 9-8 on Tuesday and 5-4 on Wednesday, but every SEC weekend is a new challenge, especially on the road.

Up next for the Razorbacks

Opponent: at South Carolina
When: 6 p.m. Friday, April 19
Where: Founders Park, Columbia, SC.

Next few games:

April 20 – at South Carolina, 2 p.m. (SEC+)
April 21 – at South Carolina, 12:30 p.m. (SEC+)
April 23 – UAPB at North Little Rock, 6 p.m. (SEC+)

A series victory would be an excellent accomplishment this week in Columbia, but the Hogs must win a game in the series before even thinking of taking two of three.

Prior to the Alabama series the Razorbacks had been hitting the ball better, but their spotty hitting and an injury prompted skipper Dave Van Horn to dabble with his starting lineup a bit in the outfield against the Red Raiders.

Kendall Diggs rested a sore shoulder by sitting out the Texas Tech series. He is expected to be available for this weekend’s series.

It will be interesting to see who starts for the Hogs in left and right field. Hard-hitting Peyton Holt could be a possibility to get more jolt in the lineup?

The Razorbacks’ crack pitching staff gives the Hogs a chance to win almost every game, but a bit more consistency at the plate might make things a bit less tense for Arkansas’ adoring fans.