FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn called his team together before the second game of Friday’s doubleheader to give them a message.
He was shaking up the lineup. He didn’t want anyone concerned about where they were hitting, either. Van Horn just wanted the Razorbacks to find a way to shake off the opener, score enough runs and avoid being swept by the Gamecocks.
“I don’t think anybody was uptight about it,” Van Horn said about the changes. “They just went out there and played. … I didn’t care who it was in the second game.”
Arkansas may not have enjoyed an offensive explosion in a 4-1 win, but got enough support to pair with another strong start by pitcher Jalen Beeks. Outfielder Tyler Spoon, who was moved from the cleanup spot to leadoff in the new-look lineup, had two hits, drove in two runs and scored another to help the Razorbacks beat No. 2 South Carolina (26-4, 7-4 in SEC) in front of 6,326 in Baum Stadium.
Arkansas (19-12, 5-6 in Southeastern Conference) also avenged a 2-1 loss in the opener, evening what Van Horn described as a must-win series.
“We were angry and we came out and played angry,” Beeks said of the Game Two win. “That usually works out pretty good for us.”
Spoon played an important role, hitting leadoff for the second time this season. He wasted no time helping Arkansas snap out of its disappointment from the opener — which the Razorbacks lost after allowing two runs in the eighth inning — by singling on the first pitch he saw from South Carolina starter Jack Wynkoop (5-2).
Spoon moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by third baseman Bobby Wernes, who slid into the two-hole after batting eighth in the opener. And after outfielder Joe Serrano grounded out to third base, second baseman Brian Anderson singled to score Spoon and give the Razorbacks an early 1-0 lead.
“Hitting leadoff definitely is different,” said Spoon, who went 0-for-3 in the leadoff role during a 1-0 loss to Florida earlier this season. “First pitch of the game some people just like to see it and take some. But me, I like to be aggressive and I know that’s probably why coach put me there. I just had the same mentality.”
Spoon helped Arkansas extend the lead in the second inning when he came to the plate with two runners on base. The sophomore doubled in the gap to drive in both runs, helping the Razorbacks quickly grab a 3-0 lead.
Spoon said it was “phenomenal” to score three early runs. It was true, considering the struggles earlier as starting pitcher Trey Killian’s hard-luck season continued.
Arkansas took a 1-0 lead in the opener on Blake Baxendale’s RBI double in the seventh and held it until the eighth, when the Gamecocks finally broke through. The Razorbacks had no other answer against South Carolina Jordan Montgomery (4-2) and relievers Cody Mincey and Joel Seddon. Arkansas struck out 13 times.
“We had our opportunities,” Spoon said. “We just didn’t take advantage of it.”
Killian fell to 1-5 despite allowing two runs on six hits in 7 2/3 innings. The Razorbacks have scored eight runs in Killian’s five starts this season.
“They got some seeing eye base hits, some ground ball base hits and it was a tough situation for us,” Killian said. “I just went out there and battled. Yes, it is frustrating, I guess, maybe not getting runs scored all the time. But we are backing each other up all the way. The staff and the hitters.”
Beeks made the most of the runs in the second game, turning in another impressive outing. He struck out the side in the first inning and retired the first seven batters he faced. But Van Horn was more impressed with how Beeks performed when he got into tight spots thanks to four Arkansas errors Friday.
The most challenging jam was in the fourth inning, when shortstop Michael Bernal committed two errors. Beeks surrendered a two-out single to Connor Bright, which cut Arkansas’ lead to 3-1. But he avoided further damage with a strikeout.
“I feel like I have always been pretty level-headed and I don’t get fired up easily, which could be good or bad, but luckily it turned out good,” Beeks said of his fourth-inning jam. “I just put a lot of credit with (catcher) Jake (Wise). He called a great inning right there to get me out of it. I wouldn’t have thrown the pitches that he called, but I just trusted him and trusted how smart he is and he got me out of it.”
Beeks also got key defensive plays to end other threats. The Gamecocks grounded into double plays to end the third, fifth and seventh innings Friday night.
Van Horn said the Razorbacks planned to go to the bullpen late in the game after the Gamecocks’ late rally in the opener, but changed their mind when Beeks threw a five-pitch eighth inning. So he went back to the mound with a 4-1 lead in the ninth inning and finished off his second complete game of the season.
Beeks allowed four hits, struck out a career high nine batters and walked one. He has not allowed an earned run in his last two starts and lowered his ERA to 0.99.
“The man of the hour was Jalen Beeks,” Van Horn said. “He did a tremendous job. I tell you what, that inning where we gave them five outs, it didn’t phase him. You didn’t see him out there kicking around or pouting. He just kept fighting and fighting. And he just kept getting on the mound and didn’t let it bother him. That’s a guy, you’ve got to give him a lot of credit man. That was an awesome outing.”
Arkansas won the second game despite collecting only four hits. The Hogs had eight in the doubleheader. But the Razorbacks took advantage of three South Carolina errors in the second game to score three unearned runs and even the series.
The Razorbacks will try to win it when they play the deciding game tonight at 6.
Arkansas will send righty Chris Oliver (2-3, 2.41 ERA) to the mound, while South Carolina starts righty Will Crowe (6-0). The Razorbacks will try to become the first team to beat South Carolina in a series finale this season.
“This is a huge series for us, and we still have a chance to win it,” Van Horn said Friday night. “We’ve got to start winning series. That’s a fact. Our players know it. This is our home stadium, and we need to win.”