Arkansas heads to South Carolina eying 10th straight road softball series win


FAYETTEVILLE – An Arkansas softball program that has an impressive track record of being a road warrior under head coach Courtney Deifel gets a chance to once again prove its mettle away from home this weekend.

The No. 14 Razorbacks (28-10, 7-5) and SEC Co-Pitcher of Week Morgan Leinstock travel to No. 25 South Carolina (28-13, 4-8) for a three-game series that begins Friday night at 5 p.m. – a contest televised by the SEC Network.

Arkansas has won its last nine SEC road series dating back to 2021 and that includes winning 2 of 3 this season at both Auburn and then-No. 3 Georgia.

“I don’t know if it is a secret recipe and if it is I wish I could bottle it up and keep it,” Deifel said. “This team, and most of our teams, have not been concerned about being on the road. That’s softball.

“It’s just going in and just trying to take it one pitch at a time, one inning at a time, one game at a time. So that is what they have done really, really well – just going in and focusing on what we need to do.”

The Razorbacks have won both of their league road series this season by taking the third an deciding game.

“It is very much a business trip for them,” Deifel said. “It is going and just staying who were are. When we went to Georgia, they was one of the best environments we have played in. It was really loud, you feel like are on top of you, you are digging in against a team that is number three at the time and it just fueled them. They just continued to elevate their level.

“So I don’t know what it is, but they are comfortable on the road and they like it.”

It helps to take Leinstock (10-2, 1.79), who got two wins over Missouri last weekend, along on the business trip, which will also include games Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.

The Southern Mississippi transfer has flourished while pitching a team-high 98 innings over 22 games – 11 starts and 11 relief appearances – fanning 106 and walking 26.

Leinstock threw a complete game in Arkansas’ series-opening win over Missouri and then 6 2/3 innings in the finale to nab the award.

“I am just happy for her,” Deifel said. “I think she earned it and there are maybe a couple of times she could have and should have gotten it. I just think she pitched well enough to get her name in that conversation…For her to get it, I just think was huge.”

South Carolina stated the season 18-2, but has struggled in SEC play against a tough slate that has included ranked foes Texas A&M, Tennessee, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

“I don’t ever look at the record of SEC teams,” Deifel said. “I don’t think it has any bearing on who they are and what they do or how good they are. And I don’t look at the number (ranking) either, so I don’t know where we are right now, either.”

The two teams will join many others nationwide in wearing the color teal to honor the late Alex Wilcox, who was a member of the 2018 Mississippi State softball team that fought ovarian cancer.

Arkansas will wear white jerseys with teal accents for Wilcox, an 18-year-old who died in 2018.

While the Gamecocks have the SEC’s worst batting average of .241, their 1.86 ERA is the third-best in the league and 12th nationally.

“I look at South Carolina and they just pitch the heck out of it,” said Deifel. “They have really, really strong pitching. They are a really feisty team, a real gritty team and they play really good defense.”

That staff is led staff led by Stanford transfer Alana Vawter (12-6, 1.97, 77 strikeouts in 117 innings), a pitcher Arkansas beat in the 2021 NCAA Tournament Regional.

“That feels like a lifetime ago,” Deifel said. “I imagine she would say the same thing. She’s a seasoned veteran now. She is an incredible competitor and she has been throughout her entire career. She has elite stuff. She was very, very good then, and now she has a few more years of experience under her belt.”

Deifel admits guiding the Razorbacks has been both fun and challenging.

“It is fun,” Deifel said. “This group has been really fun, they have been challenging, they have been all of the things, but what they have done is they have committed to consistently growing.

“Some days is it tougher than others, but I still think this team is trending up, I think we are starting to click, it’s coming together and I think our best softball is still ahead of us and that’s the most exciting thing.”

Photo by John D. James

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