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OMAHA, Neb. -- Arkansas pitchers Ryne Stanek and Barrett Astin made sure South Carolina's amazing postseason winning streak came to a screeching halt.
The Gamecocks were the favorites entering Monday's winner's bracket bout against the Razorbacks, and for good reason. South Carolina carried an amazing 22-game NCAA postseason winning streak into the contest. Furthermore, they also carried with that an equally amazing 12-game College World Series winning streak.
The Gamecocks hadn't lost a game in the CWS since Oklahoma on June 20, 2010.
Not intimidated by the aura that often surrounds the Gamecocks here in Omaha, Stanek and Astin, and the Razorbacks, put together nine strong innings of baseball, as they captured a 2-1 win over South Carolina, and grabbed strong hold of their side of the CWS bracket.
"I thought Stanek and Astin were very, very good tonight. Their stuff was very special," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. "We weren't able to push many runs across on their pitching staff."
After right-handed pitcher DJ Baxendale put together such a strong start in a win over Kent State on Saturday, Stanek had a tough chore to live up to that type of starting performance. But he was more than willing to rise to the occasion.
After all, he entered Monday with a little chip on his shoulder.
Stanek was excellent two weekends ago in Houston Regional action against Rice, tossing seven shutout innings in a huge win. But last weekend against Baylor, the righty was lifted after allowing just two runs in four innings, after coach Dave Van Horn said things simply weren't looking right, or good, for that matter.
Stanek didn't want that performance against BU to be a lasting memory.
"I know I didn't have a good outing the last time out and I felt like I let the team down by not being at my best in a big situation like that," Stanek said. "I just wanted to go out there tonight and throw strikes. It was big for me to throw the fastball for strikes tonight. If I have to resort to my off speed stuff all the time, it sometimes doesn't turn out too well."
Van Horn noticed some distinct differences between last week's performance on Monday's, where Stanek struck out three batters and allowed just one run on three hits in six innings of work, very similar to his start against Rice two weeks ago. He also threw 91 pitches, 58 of them for strikes. On the flip side, South Carolina right-handed pitcher Colby Holmes had a tough night on the mound, getting lifted early in the contest after allowing two runs on four hits in 3 2/3 innings of work.
"He was more under control with his mechanics. It seemed easy and smooth, and it wasn't like he was overthrowing," Van Horn said. "With a 2-0 count, he was able to throw a strike, and that was huge. He was a polished pitcher tonight and did a great job on a tough stage. I am real proud of him tonight."
Stanek also avenged a bad start against the Gamecocks in early May. In that contest, he allowed five runs on six hits in just five innings of work. His start on Monday certainly was a stark contrast, pounding the strike zone with a solid four-pitch mix.
"He came after us again. Just like last time, he came after us with a good fastball, good curveball, and he had good control of it," South Carolina outfielder Evan Marzilli said. "He was a great pitcher and he came out and had a great game. I couldn't take advantage of the situation I had and a couple of other places, but he pitched a good game."
Outside of Marzilli's RBI triple in the fifth inning, the Gameococks were unable to muster much against Stanek. They also couldn't figure out reliever Barrett Astin.
Astin, before Monday, had been excellent in the NCAA postseason. In two outings before the CWS, he had allowed just three hits in 3 2/3 scoreless innings. Against the Gamecocks, he was dominant, allowing just one hit (no runs) in three innings. He also struck out a batter.
"The first inning I was in there I didn't have command of anything," Astin said. "But I settled down and got my release point back in the eighth and ninth innings."
To beat these Gamecocks here in Omaha, the Razorbacks needed some herculean pitching performances from Stanek and Astin. They got both, and extended this pitching staff's impressive string of success the past month of the season.
Amazingly, the Hogs have allowed just two runs in the last 32 1/3 innings, and the pitching staff (and great defense) is the reason why they ended South Carolina's impressive winning streak.
It's also the reason the Hogs are one step closer to playing for a national title.
GAME IN REVIEW
PLAYER OF THE GAME: RHP Ryne Stanek, Arkansas -- The Razorbacks lifted Stanek from his start against Baylor last week a little earlier than expected because of some struggles. Stanek, though, redeemed himself against the Gamecocks. He struck out three batters and allowed just one run on three hits in six innings of work. He threw 91 pitches, 58 for strikes.
UNSUNG HERO: RHP Barrett Astin, Arkansas -- The Hogs went with Stanek for six innings, turning the rest of the game over to the outstanding reliever. As usual, Astin didn't disappoint. The righty only struck out one batter, but allowed just one hit in three scoreless innings of work to earn his 11th save this season.
GAME WAS OVER WHEN: The Razorbacks entered the eighth inning up 2-1. After recording the first two outs of the inning, Arkansas reliever Barrett Astin allowed a double off the bat of South Carolina third baseman LB Dantzler. Astin, though, dug in and induced a 4-3 groundout to Adam Matthews to end the frame. The Hogs were in good shape in the ninth inning with the bottom of the Gamecocks order up.
WHAT'S NEXT: With the win, the Arkansas Razorbacks are in the driver's seat to the CWS Championship Series. The Hogs won't play until Thursday and will have a chance to either start DJ Baxendale again, or go with Randall Fant (3.00, 51 IP), who has been fantastic in the postseason. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks head to the loser's bracket to face Kent State on Wednesday. The Gamecocks have a tough decision on their hands, whether to start veteran left-hander Michael Roth or freshman lefty Jordan Montgomery (4.05, 66 2/3 IP).