South Carolina rally stuns Arkansas in Hogs’ SEC Tournament opener

A two-run home run from Cole Messina in the top of the ninth inning lifted 10th-seeded South Carolina to a 6-5 victory over second-seeded Arkansas in the Razorbacks’ SEC Baseball Tournament opener at the Hoover Met Thursday.

Messina’s home run to straightaway centerfield was his second blast of the day — as well as the first home run allowed by SEC Freshman of the Year Gabe Gaeckle all year — and gave the Gamecocks a 6-4 lead.

Arkansas (43-13 overall) threatened in the bottom of the ninth with three consecutive singles from Peyton Stovall, Hudson White and Ben McLaughlin with one away off South Carolina (35-21) reliever Garrett Gainey. McLaughlin’s single made it a one-run game.

Wehiwa Aloy got ahead 2-0 in the count before grounding out for the second out. Jared Sprague-Lott then flied to left-center to end the game and preserve the Gamecocks’ comeback.

Arkansas will play third-seeded Kentucky in a single-elimination game Thursday in Hoover at 9:30 a.m. CDT. The game can be seen on SEC Network. The Wildcats were clubbed 11-0 by LSU in eight innings Thursday.

Ben Bybee started for Arkansas and quickly found himself in trouble. After allowing back-to-back walks to Blake Jackson and Messina with two outs, Parker Noland smoked a single to left-center to give South Carolina an early 1-0 lead.

The Diamond Hogs tied it in the second inning off Gamecocks starter Eli Jones when McLaughlin singled and later scored on an RBI single from Sprague-Lott.

South Carolina went right back to work in the third off Bybee when Ethan Petry singled following a walk to Austin Brinling. Messina followed with a single up the middle to put the Gamecocks back on top at 2-1.

That was all for Bybee, who parted after 2 1/3 innings. Christian Foutch took over and escaped a bases-loaded jam to end the inning.

Arkansas caught a break in the fourth on a would-be double play ball sent back up the middle. Jones snagged a comebacker but airmailed a throw into centerfield to give the Razorbacks runners at the corners. After Sprague-Lott flied out, South Carolina coach Mark Kingston went to his bullpen and summoned right-hander Ty Good.

Dave Van Horn countered with his own move and removed Nolan Souza for pinch-hitter Ryder Helfrick. The move paid off for Van Horn when Helfrick sent a well-hit sacrifice fly to left to score McLaughlin and tie the game.

Good struck out Ross Lovich with the bases loaded to end the threat and get the Gamecocks out of further trouble. It would be one of several missed opportunities for Arkansas in the game.

South Carolina struck again in the fifth against Parker Coil. Jackson was hit by a pitch before Messina took Coil deep on a pitch up and out over the plate for a two-run home run that traveled 420 feet to dead center for a 4-2 Gamecocks lead.

Will Edmundson led off the seventh with a pinch-hit single for Arkansas. Kendall Diggs followed with a sharp single to right on a 1-2 pitch to put the tying run aboard for the Hogs.

That was all for Good, who departed with the lead after 2 2/3 innings in relief. Gainey came in to face Stovall in a lefty-lefty matchup. Stovall drove an 0-1 pitch over the head of Brinling in center for a double to score Edmundson with Diggs right on his heels and holding at third.

White drew a five-pitch walk to load the bases with no one out. But the Hogs never got the big hit that might have carried them to a victory on this day.

McLaughlin was retired on a fly to right when Petry made a diving catch on a ball that would have landed fair for a bases-clearing double. Diggs scored from third on the play to tie the game, but Petry’s gem to rob McLaughlin of extra bases turned the inning around for South Carolina.

Aloy struck out on four pitches for the second out. Gainey then got out of the inning by retiring Sprague-Lott on a hard-hit fly ball to left to keep it a 4-4 game before Messina’s ninth-inning heroics.

Arkansas outhit South Carolina, 9-8, and left 10 runners on base. Gaeckle (3-3) suffered the loss with Gainey picking up the victory (1-3). Messina’s three-hit, five-RBI day included his 18th and 19th home runs of the year.

Stovall (3-for-5) led the Razorbacks at the plate with three hits, including two doubles.

Story originally appeared on Razorbacks Wire