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|GAME AT A GLANCE|
|Turning Point: Arkansas held a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning and had a runner at first with two outs when freshman right fielder Brian Anderson stole second. Junior Matt Vinson drove home what wound up being the winning run with a single to right to give the Razorbacks some wiggle room.
The Hero: Ryne Stanek and Barrett Astin combined to four-hit the Gamecocks. Stanek went the first six, giving up the lone run, before Astin took over and tossed three shutout innings, giving up only one hit for his 11th save.
You Might Have Missed: Tyler Webb was outstanding for South Carolina in relief of Colby Holmes, making his longest outing of the season to get the final 16 outs. He went 5 1/3 and gave up just two hits, striking out four and lowering his ERA for the season to 1.70.
OMAHA—Teams have tried different formulas to handle South Carolina in the postseason. UCLA tried power pitching in 2010 with Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer; Connecticut tried first-round picks Matt Barnes and George Springer in a failed 2011 super regional bid. Florida tried power bats in 2011 and Saturday in this CWS. In-state rival Clemson tried hatred in this year’s regional.
No one had figured out how to do it since Oklahoma in the first game of the 2010 College World Series. The Gamecocks had won two straight national championships and acquired an aura and a mystique not seen in college baseball since Darwin Barney’s O-State Ballaz (better known as Oregon State’s back-to-back 2006-2007 champions).
But mystique and aura weren’t enough Monday night against Arkansas’ major league-quality pitching. Behind righthanders Ryne Stanek and Barrett Astin and a pair of two-out RBIs, the Razorbacks beat South Carolina 2-1 to improve to 2-0 at the 2012 College World Series.
The Gamecocks (46-18) saw two incredible streaks end—22 straight NCAA tournament victories and 12 straight wins in CWS play. Stanek (six innings) and Astin (three) were too good on this night, limiting coach Ray Tanner’s charges to just four hits.
“I realize that we lost, and that’s part of it. It was a great run,” Tanner said of his team’s dual streaks. “It’s one of those things that you don’t know if it could happen or if it will ever happen again. It’s been a pretty good run.
“But Arkansas tonight was a better team. They won, and they advanced.”
Arkansas’ formula was simple. It got a lead in the first, as Tim Carver led off with a single against Colby Holmes, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and groundout, then scored on a line-drive RBI double to left-center by Dominic Ficociello. In the fourth, Matt Vinson’s two-out single scored Brian Anderson, who had singled to lead off and stolen a base.
Those early runs helped Stanek settle into a groove and pitch with some confidence, despite having been knocked around for six hits and five runs when he faced South Carolina in a May 4 start. Stanek also lasted just four innings against Baylor in last week’s super regional. Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said he thought Stanek’s mechanics were easier, smoother and more under control in this game, so he wasn’t overthrowing, trying to manufacture velocity.
“He looked like a polished pitcher,” Van Horn said. “He did a great job on a tough stage. I’m real proud of him.”
Like the Gamecocks, Stanek is an Omaha veteran, but unlike the two-time defending champs, his experience before Monday was as a fan. The Overland Park, Kan., native said he and his family have been regular visitors to the CWS in past years, coming for Father’s Day and trips to the Henry Doorly Zoo. He’s been to Series games before, and being on the mound as he’d imagined in his youth was better than he had expected.
“It was way cooler playing,” he said with a grin. “I didn’t really get anxious or too excited or too amped until we finished the warmups, and then during the national anthem, I was standing there for the national anthem and it’s like, ‘What am I doing?’
“The anthem finished and it helped that I was throwing second and I got a little bit of a breather, got a feel for the game, and we scored, so I knew I just had to keep it close.”
He did that, using a fastball that touched 97 mph and sat in the low-to-mid 90s, according to one scout in attendance. Stanek mixed in a low-80s curveball and mid-80s slider with an occasional changeup.
“Stanek had four pitches working,” Van Horn said. “I talked to (pitching coach Dave Jorn) and he said it was fun calling pitches because he had four to go to, not just two or even one; he had ‘em all.
“He probably could’ve gone another inning, but he was getting ready to go through hitters again . . . We had a fresh bullpen. Barrett Astin just came in and did an outstanding job. Everything he throws moves.”
Astin estimated his cutter made up 60 percent of his repertoire Monday night, and he had an effective curveball that kept hitters from sitting on his cutter. He gave up a long two-out double to L.B. Dantzler in the eighth inning but otherwise wasn’t challenged by the Gamecocks.
South Carolina had very few chances overall, stranding seven runners. Stanek stranded a pair in the first inning, worked around a runner at second in the third, then stranded runners at third in the fourth and fifth. In the fourth, with Adam Matthews at third, Tanner English tried to drag a bunt for a hit, but Ficociello used his 6-foot-4 frame to field the ball and stretch to tag the speedy English running by.
Evan Marzilli drove home South Carolina’s lone run with a two-out triple in the fifth, but Stanek worked around Christian Walker and retired Dantzler on a flyout to right to get out of his biggest threat.
“Stanek and Astin were very, very good,” Tanner said. “Their stuff was very special, at least from my vantage point . . . We just couldn’t get into a situation to make many things happen.”
Arkansas and Arizona are the two 2-0 clubs in the 2012 Series, neither one a national seed. Arkansas doesn’t play until Thursday against the winner of Wednesday’s South Carolina-Kent State elimination game.
It will be the first time the Gamecocks have faced elimination since they won their 2010 CWS bracket en route to their first national championship. They could turn to star lefthander Michael Roth on three days’ rest, though Tanner was non-committal on who would face the Golden Flashes.
But it will be different. The Gamecocks will face an elimination game, because Arkansas did what no one could do for two solid years.
“I want to give credit to South Carolina,” Astin said. “They went through 22 games or whatever it is . . . Hat’s off to South Carolina. That was a good team win for us.”