FAYETTEVILLE — Nothing short of a return to the College World Series would have been good enough for an Arkansas team that started the year in the top 5 of most national polls and loaded with expectations.
Facing the prospect of failing to reach that goal in a winner-take-all third super regional game, the Razorbacks responded.
Led by Eric Cole's three hits, including a home run, No. 5 national seed Arkansas (44-19) blasted its way back to Omaha with a 14-4 win over South Carolina on Monday night.
The trip to the College World Series is the first since 2015 for the Razorbacks, and it's their fifth in the last 16 seasons under coach Dave Van Horn. History aside, the victory was a refreshing nine innings of relative relaxation in what's been a pressure-packed season for Arkansas.
"This season has been a grind, and there's been a lot of expectation, which probably (the players) feel as much as the coaching staff does," Van Horn said. "They've handled it every day, come and worked extremely hard, and they kind of showed you what they're made of tonight."
Cole scored five runs and had a pair of RBIs for Arkansas, and Luke Bonfield added three hits and four RBIs in the convincing win. The Razorbacks scored five runs in the first inning, highlighted by a three-run home run by Carson Shaddy.
The rout was on from there, other than a brief moment of tension when the Gamecocks (37-26) closed the lead to 7-2 in the top of the fourth — much to the delight of 11,217 fans in Baum Stadium.
"They took all the drama out of that game, which I really appreciate," Van Horn said. "I guarantee you that."
Barrett Loseke (3-2) earned the win for Arkansas while allowing one run in 2 1/3 innings of relief of starter Isaiah Campbell, who struck out five in four innings.
Jacob Olson had a pair of home runs for the Gamecocks, who were trying to return to the CWS for the first time since 2012. Carmen Mlodzinski (3-6) took the loss after allowing five runs, four earned, in his only inning of work.
South Carolina started this season 13-11 before rebounding and forcing Monday's game with an 8-5 win over the Razorbacks in the second game of the super regional on Sunday. However, the Gamecocks pitching staff simply didn't have enough rested arms left to shut down one of the top offenses in the country.
"(Arkansas is) clearly one of the best teams in the country," South Carolina coach Mark Kingston said. "And they played probably their best baseball tonight."
The Razorbacks improved to 35-4 at home and won 15 of their final 16 games in Fayetteville.
"This is a tough team, and we understand how talented we are," Shaddy said. "We like the expectations; it makes us play better."
Martin's first-inning home run was his 14th of the season and Arkansas' school-record 93rd overall before Cole pushed the total to 94 with his seventh-inning blast. The previous best was 92 home runs in 64 games in 2010, and the Razorbacks needed one fewer game to top that mark this season. Arkansas entered Monday's game fourth in the country in total home runs, trailing only Tennessee Tech, Clemson and Florida.
South Carolina: Relief pitcher Eddy Demurias exited the game under the watch of the Gamecocks trainer and after facing only two batters in the fifth. Kingston said the junior was healthy but simply exhausted after throwing 59 pitches and allowing five runs in 2 1/3 innings of work two days earlier in a loss to Arkansas.
The Razorbacks will face former Southwest Conference rival Texas to open the CWS. Arkansas swept a two-game series with the Longhorns in March.