Sports

USC rallies to beat Arkansas, takes series

South Carolina designated hitter John Jones (22) celebrates his game-winning three-run home run during the eighth inning Sunday against Arkansas at Founders Park.
South Carolina designated hitter John Jones (22) celebrates his game-winning three-run home run during the eighth inning Sunday against Arkansas at Founders Park. jblake@thestate.com

South Carolina was on the brink of dropping its first home game of the year during Sunday’s series finale against Arkansas, but John Jones and the Gamecocks had other ideas.

Led by Jones, USC rallied from a 6-1 deficit to defeat 17th-ranked Arkansas 8-6 and sweep the three-game series at Founders Park.

Jones punctuated the comeback with a go-ahead three-run home run in the eighth inning off Razorbacks closer Zach Jackson. In his final three at-bats, all with South Carolina trailing, he hit a RBI single, RBI double and three-run homer.

“I don’t know really how to describe him other than that “it” factor, he has it,” Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said. “The kid’s got a knack for putting the barrel of the bat on the ball, and he did it in a big moment today.”

Arkansas (15-6, 0-3) led 6-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning before the Gamecocks (20-2, 3-0) started mounting a comeback.

With two outs in the inning, LT Tolbert doubled to right and later scored on Jones’ single. After an Alex Destino single, Dom Thompson-Williams tripled to right-center to score two and cut the Razorbacks’ lead to 6-4.

“When Dom hit the two-run triple, it was a two-run game and we knew that it could sway at any time,” Jones said.

USC cut the lead to 6-5 in the sixth inning when Jones doubled to right-center to score Gene Cone. Jones’ three-run shot in the eighth was his sixth homer of the year, and marked the second straight day he hit a go-ahead home run.

The homer came on a changeup with two strikes.

“Late in the count, it’s hard to sit on one pitch, especially off-speed. He went with it again, the fifth time I saw that pitch,” Jones said. “I wasn’t expecting it, but in the back of my mind I knew that he would probably throw it again. It was a really good pitch.”

South Carolina starter Adam Hill allowed five runs in three innings, but the Gamecocks’ bullpen was sensational.

Vince Fiori allowed one run, which was unearned, and Reed Scott and Josh Reagan pitched 52/3 innings of scoreless relief.

Tolbert went 2-for-4 with two runs and a walk for USC. Thompson-Williams has reached base in all 22 games this year, while Destino now has a 13-game hitting streak.

THREE POINTS

Star of the game: Jones: He almost single-handedly brought South Carolina back from a five-run deficit. He went 3-for-3 in his last three at-bats with a RBI single, RBI double and three-run homer.

Play of the game: Cone threw out a runner at the plate with a throw that was on the money to end the top half of the fifth. The play got the crowd back into the game, and you could feel the momentum beginning to change.

Stat of the game: 4.20. Arkansas closer Zach Jackson, a first-team All-SEC selection a year ago, saw his ERA jump from 2.19 to 4.20 on Sunday. Jackson allowed four earned runs on three hits and five walks.

OBSERVATIONS

Hill hurt by bad luck: The line for USC starter Adam Hill doesn’t look good (5 ER in 3 IP), but Hill threw much better than his numbers indicate. He cruised through the first two innings, striking out four without allowing a base runner to reach, but an error, wild pitch and an umpire that did not give him the inside corner made it tough on him. Holbrook said he was happy with the way Hill threw, and Hill will be back on the mound next weekend.

Attitude adjustment: The Gamecocks looked out of it halfway through the game on Sunday, swinging at pitches in the dirt and playing shaky defense. But USC never quit and always felt like it could win. This was a game Carolina likely would have lost last year.

Jones getting needed protection: The sophomore will get a lot of the credit for Sunday’s win, and rightfully so, but it’s hard to pitch around Jones when he comes to the plate with runners on base and Destino and Thompson-Williams are swinging the bat so well behind him.

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