FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — A year ago, almost to the day, Carson Shaddy was disappointed. He hadn’t been taken in the MLB Draft. His Arkansas baseball team was eliminated, as a hosting team, in the regional round of the NCAA Tournament.
So the Fayetteville native had two major goals in 2018, his senior year. The MLB Draft thing fixed itself earlier this week. The other?
Shaddy helped Arkansas in the right direction toward making it a reality Saturday. Shaddy’s bases-clearing double in the seventh inning broke open Game 1 of the Fayetteville Super Regional against South Carolina. Arkansas’ 1-run lead ballooned to 4. A 9-3 final score put the Diamond Hogs one win away from the College World Series.
Arkansas can book that spot on Sunday. The two teams play Game 2 at 2 p.m. CT Sunday. If the Razorbacks win, they’re in. If they lose, the Diamond Hogs and Gamecocks will play a winner-take-all game Monday night.
Shaddy’s night was nearly perfect. Even before the double, his sacrifice fly in the fourth inning broke a 2-2 tie. That one was important because, to that point, Arkansas wasn’t hitting. A couple of wasted opportunities with the bases loaded — a Razorbacks bugaboo all season — made for some antsy fans. South Carolina was clearly counting on another one. To make things worse, the Gamecocks intentionally walked Dominic Fletcher to bring up Shaddy in the game-breaking situation.
Probably more damage should have been done with the bases loaded and nobody out in the fourth, though. Fletcher was hit by a pitch to tie the score at 2 and Shaddy followed with the sacrifice fly. But the two guys who struggled in such situations against South Carolina in the regular season struggled again Saturday.
Grant Koch struck out swinging. Jax Biggers flied out to right. Biggers went 0 for 2 with the bases loaded in the teams’ first meeting, an Arkansas loss. Koch went only 0 for 1 in that game with three runners on, but it came in the seventh inning as the Razorbacks trailed by just 1 run.
The flip side to that inning is Arkansas managed the 2 runs by getting just 1 hit. Ultimately, facts like those led to an early exit for South Carolina starter Adam Hill. He only allowed 2 hits in his four-plus innings, but he walked 5 and hit two more Arkansas batters.
South Carolina tied the score in the sixth: Homer Stokes. Blaine Knight’s start was laborious and the tying home run he gave up to Madison Stokes was on a fat pitch. Knight’s start still turned out to be one of quality, though, as he went six innings, giving up those 3 runs. When Biggers singled in Shaddy in the sixth, the Arkansas bench went over to Knight to pat on him the head. It was one of those kinds of nights.
It took some time, but the best-hitting team in the SEC finally woke up against Eddy Demurias, Hill’s relief. The Arkansas lineup tagged him for 5 runs thanks to 5 hits, 3 walks and 2 wild pitches. Two of those walks, 1 of those wild pitches and 4 of those hits came in the seventh.
The final score was not indicative of the game’s tightness. Something about South Carolina has been tough for Arkansas. The Gamecocks were the only team in the SEC to win a game at Baum Stadium this year. The two other games in that three-game set were only 1-run Razorbacks wins. The 11,722 who were inside the park Saturday, if they show up Sunday, could be in for a tight one.
Knight didn’t have his best stuff. It seemed like he was overpitching, trying to dot things instead of his usual stuff. But he was ultimately fine and his replacement, Barrett Loseke, was excellent in relief.
Walks aren’t as sexy as knocks, but they are often even more important. Because of them Saturday, Arkansas hung around long enough that when the bats came alive, even if briefly, it was enough to lift to a win. There were 8 walks, 10 hits and 2 hit batters.
The Big Stick + The Arm
He hasn’t lost a game to an SEC team this year.
The final line: 1 for 2 with a double, 4 RBI, a walk, strikeout and 2 runs. He was a first-team All-SEC selection for a reason.
Arkansas and South Carolina will play Game 2 at Baum Stadium at 2 p.m. CT Sunday.