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Hogs Baseball

Van Horn on maintenance issues with all-grass, Kjerstad’s big year, more

Arkansas is one of the rare college baseball facilities with all natural grass but Dave Van Horn said Tuesday he might not be that opposed to putting in some of the fake stuff.

“It’s more just a maintenance nightmare,” he said Tuesday with Phil Elson and Matt Jenkins (Halftime) on ESPN Arkansas. “For what we do I would almost like to have some of the synthetic turf around home plate and in the foul areas. It is difficult sometimes.”

That may come as a little bit of a surprise to some Razorback fans.

“I’m in the middle on it, really,” he said. “In fall ball and early in the year we tear up the field so bad. We’re trying to baby that grass and it’s kind of a pain, bot be honest with you.”

That was why former athletics director Frank Broyles loved the fake grass, especially in the winters in Northwest Arkansas that can be harsh at times, especially with natural turf.

Broyles put Astro-Turf down in 1969 and in just a few years had one of the longest straight runs of the fake stuff from the North End Zone facility down to George Cole Field.

Changes in MLB draft affecting college baseball

Van Horn didn’t really have enough time to go into a lot of detail on the announcement last week the Major League Baseball Draft would be shortened to just five rounds, but he knows some players might be coming back he didn’t really expect.

Naturally, he’s in favor of players staying in college longer, especially if they are not chosen high and he’s realistic about the financial part of it.

“If I was a parent I’d take no less than $2 million to buy my kid out of college,” Van Horn said. “The goal is to make it to the big leagues and stick.”

The signing bonuses if you’re picked higher are a false promise. Many don’t realize the best-case scenario is 40 percent of that is gone before they get it (for taxes), then the agent’s part and that $400,000 suddenly turns to about $250,000 … if they are lucky.

The change this year will have some players back in school that would have normally been gone.

“It’s going to make college baseball a little bit older for a year or two,” Van Horn said. “It’s going to get a few really good players to skip pro ball and go to college. It’s so much better for the kids that don’t get to the big leagues and don’t get their degrees.”

The Hogs’ Heston Kjerstad and Casey Martin will probably be picked high and gone. Catcher Casey Opitz might be on the bubble.

Kjerstad’s missed chance at big season

Van Horn knows Kjerstad won’t be back, but was looking forward to him putting up some monster numbers the way things were shaping up before getting cancelled in mid-March.

“He would have been one of three invited to Golden Spike awards,” he said about the top award in college baseball.

It was a hot start as Kjerstad was living up to all the pre-season hype and expectations as the original schedule had them heading to Knoxville on Wednesday for the final regular-season series.

“If we were heading to Tennessee tomorrow Heston would have close to mid-20’s in home runs and be hitting around .370,” Van Horn said. “He wore it out and I don’t think he was even hot.”

That was based in large part of Kjerstad’s work in developing his game.

“He’d be there on the weekends and working later, more on speed and athleticism,” Van Horn said.

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Hogs Baseball

Kjerstad, Opitz on disappointment of early end to season, delay in MLB Draft

Razorback players Casey Opitz and Heston Kjerstad talked with the media Tuesday about how they are each dealing with the shutdown of the baseball season back at home, the draft and disappointment.

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Hogs Baseball

Hogs were ‘just in shock’ when season cancelled, Van Horn said

Arkansas’ baseball team had about the same reaction when the word came down from the SEC and NCAA about the jarring premature end of the season due to the national emergency over the COVID-19 virus.

“They were just in shock,” Dave Van Horn said Wednesday morning on a teleconference.

In what ended up being the last game of the 2020 season last week, there was about as much side discussion about the crisis as it was the game going on so the situation was not completely unexpected.

“You start getting wind of it after the win over Grand Canyon and next day we’re supposed to fly out to Starkville,” Van Horn said about the opening SEC series against Mississippi State. “Then we’re put on hold and we pretty much knew what was going to happen there.

“We kinda knew it was going to go away.”

But there was still a glimmer of hope until Tuesday when the NCAA and the SEC slammed the door shut on all sports for awhile.

Van Horn normally stands up to address the team and assistant coaches are scattered around. Not this time. He brought them to the front to stand with him.

“I wanted them to see what I was going to see in the players’ faces,” Van Horn said. “It was tough. It was really hard to look at the players and their reactions.”

All sports function on a routine schedule that becomes a part of both coaches and players. Baseball plays so many games at such a fast pace that routine is a necessity. The Razorbacks pretty much figured it was just a matter of time.

“Behind closed doors we were thinking we’re done,” Van Horn said. “When are they just going to tell us this is over? You have to train for a certain date. Hitters have to swing the bat nearly every day.”

All that’s over and it’s not coming back for this season.

Which means star players Heston Kjerstad, Casey Martin and Casey Opitz won’t be back for the Hogs whenever things resume.

““I haven’t discussed anything with them as far as that goes,” Van Horn said. “I just know how highly those guys are going to be sought after in the draft and the kind of money that’s going to go out there to them.”

A couple of others may leave, too, but Van Horn wasn’t naming any names with those guys.

“There are a couple that are iffy,” he said.

With just 16 games played (and the Hogs’ record will remain 11-5 for all time), this team was starting to get things straightened out and the frustration slipped through at times in Van Horn’s voice.

Especially Kjerstad and Martin.

“He was starting to heat up,” Van Horn said of Kjerstad. “He would have hit mid-20 or 30 home runs this year.”

And Martin had finally matured to the point he was handling some early-season adversity and turning things around.

“He was really starting to come out of it,” Van Horn said. “His demeanor when he wasn’t having a good day was getting so much better. I think he was getting ready to take off.”

Others were developting, too.

“Some guys having great years,” Van Horn said. “I really wanted I wanted Christian Franklin to keep developing.”

There will be changes to the roster. There is some accepted expectation that eligibility will be restored to some players, but Van Horn admitted that’s going to be a tricky area.

The not knowing may be the biggest problem of all for Van Horn.

“There’s so many unknowns right now,” Van Horn said.

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Hogs Baseball

Razorbacks pound out 12 hits in rolling past Grand Canyon on Tuesday night

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas opened its midweek series against Grand Canyon with a 6-1 victory on Tuesday night at Baum-Walker Stadium.

The Razorbacks and Antelopes wrap up the two-game set on Wednesday at 3 p.m., at Baum-Walker Stadium.

You can listen to Phil Elson and Bubba Carpenter with the pregame starting at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN Arkansas 95.3 in the River Valley, 96.3 in Hot Springs and 104.3 in Harrison-Mountain Home.

The game will also be available online at HitThatLine.com. CLICK HERE

The Razorbacks recorded 12 hits in the game, all singles, suppressing the Antelopes (9-8) to just one run on eight hits, with no walks allowed.

It was the second time this season Arkansas has not issued a walk to an opponent, also doing so against Oklahoma on Feb. 28 in Houston.

Freshman right-handed pitcher Will McEntire made his first start as a Razorback in Tuesday’s contest against Grand Canyon.

The Bryant native worked six innings, allowing one run on seven hits, with no walks and three strikeouts. He faced 22 batters, with only two hitter’s counts reaching three balls, earning his first win of the year.

Sophomore lefty Caden Monke tossed the final three innings, giving up just one hit, retiring the last eight batters he faced, with three strikeouts to earn his first save of the year.

Matt Goodheart against Grand Canyon
PHOTO BY ANDY HODGES | HITTHATLINE.COM

Four Razorbacks recorded multi-hit games against Grand Canyon, with Heston Kjerstad and Robert Moore each getting three. Matt Goodheart and Braydon Webb both had two hits in the contest, as Arkansas had double-digit hits for the fourth time in five games.

For the first time in seven games, the Hogs drew first blood, scoring four in the second inning for a 4-0 lead.

Arkansas had five consecutive batters reach via four-straight singles and a fielder’s choice to quickly put up three runs. Webb and Casey Opitz got hits to opposite sides of the field, setting up Jacob Nesbit to drive in Webb with a single down the first base line to make it 1-0.

Shortly after, Moore shot one up the middle off a pair of Lopes’ gloves, sending Opitz home, then Nesbit scored on a fielder’s choice to make it 3-0. With two away, Goodheart posted the fifth single of the inning to drive in Cole Austin to complete the four-run frame.

GCU got a run back in the top of the third behind a solo home run from David Avitia to cut the lead to 4-1. It was the first run allowed by McEntire this year.

Arkansas erased it in the bottom of the fourth on a sacrifice fly from Opitz after singles from Kjerstad and Goodheart, getting Martin on first via a fielding error to push the lead to 5-1.

In the fifth, Kjerstad roped his third hit of the night through the right side of the infield to score Moore, who opened the inning with a single, to go up, 6-1.

The final four frames featured all goose eggs on both sides, as Arkansas improved to 3-0 all-time against Grand Canyon.

Information from Razorback Sports Communications is included in this story.

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Hogs Baseball

Hogs’ Opitz named to watch list for catcher of year award

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ Casey Opitz has been named to the 2020 Buster Posey National Collegiate Catcher of the Year watch list, released by the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission.

The award is given annually to the top Division-I collegiate catcher, as 60 players were nominated for this year’s honor.

The semifinalists will be announced on May 19, with finalists slated to be released on June 2, followed by the award presentation on June 25 in Wichita, Kansas.

Opitz, a junior from Centennial, Colorado, is off to a strong start to the 2020 season, hitting .298 over 14 games, starting 12 behind the plate. He’s recorded 14 hits, eight for extra bases, with six doubles, a triple and a homer, as well as 10 RBIs, eight runs scored and four walks.

He has been exceptional behind the plate as well, recording 101 putouts and 18 assists, while catching four would-be base stealers.

Opitz has four multi-hit games this year, with a pair of three-hit performances, including his first that came a double shy of the cycle on Feb. 21.

Opitz was also named one of two captains by his teammates before spring practices began.

Information from Razorback Sports Communications is included in this story.

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Razorbacks face Grand Canyon in midweek matchup in Baum-Walker Stadium

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas wraps up its six-game home stand with a double midweek set against Grand Canyon on Tuesday and Wednesday at Baum-Walker Stadium.

The game will be available with Phil Elson and Bubba Carpenter on the ESPN SEC Network+ online and can also be heard on ESPN Arkansas 95.3 in the River Valley, 96.3 in Hot Springs and 104.3 in Harrison-Mountain Home.

You can also listen to the game online at HitThatLine.com by CLICKING HERE.

Game times:

Tuesday (March 10) – 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday (March 11) – 3 p.m.

The Razorbacks and Antelopes have only met twice, squaring off in a doubleheader on April 5, 2017, as the Hogs took both games by scores of 11-2 and 6-1.

Arkansas put together a 2-2 week at home, winning their weekend series against South Alabama on March 6-8. After dropping a tough 8-7 decision to Illinois State on Tuesday, the Hogs fell in the series opener to the Jaguars, 13-6.

Arkansas rebounded for a 15-2 victory in the Saturday contest, followed by a 5-3 win in Sunday’s finale to take the series.

With the series on the line in the bottom of the ninth, the Hogs got their first walk-off home run since 2013 thanks to a two-run shot from Heston Kjerstad. Exactly seven years to the day, Kjerstad uncorked a 2-2 pitch over the right field wall to clinch the series for the Razorbacks.

It was Kjerstad’s sixth home run of the year and the 19th of the year for the Razorbacks.

The last walk-off home run by a Razorback came from Joe Serrano against San Diego State on March 8, 2013.

Freshman RHP Will McEntire to start Tuesday’s game against the Antelopes. McEntire will be making his first start of the season and second appearance on the mound.

He tossed two innings against South Alabama on Saturday, throwing a pair of shutout innings, retiring all six batters he faced, striking out four. He will be the second freshman to start a game for the Hogs this season.

Pitching rotation

Tuesday – RHP Will McEntire vs. LHP Cal Lambert
Wednesday – TBA vs. TBA

Outfielder Christian Franklin has been one of the most consistent players in the lineup for the Razorbacks this season, entering the new with a team-best .426 batting average, totaling 23 hits this season.

Franklin led the team in hitting last week, recording 10 hits over four games with three RBIs and seven runs scored for a .588/.882/.650 line at the plate.

He recorded multi-hit performances in all four games, including three-hit games against Illinois State (3/3) and in the finale against the Jaguars (3/8). Franklin has a hit in all but one game and has scored a run in all but two.

Getting overshadowed a little bit was some strong pitching down the stretch against the Jaguars on Sunday to help put the Razorbacks in position to take the series.

Sophomore RHP Elijah Trest was first out of the bullpen and pitched three shutout frames from the fourth-through-sixth. He worked out of a pair of jams with two baserunners on in the fourth and sixth innings, with a quick six-pitch fifth sandwiched between the two.

Zebulon Vermillion, another right-hander, carried the momentum through the final three innings, allowing just one base hit to his first batter faced, retiring the next nine consecutive with six strikeouts and three groundouts.

The duo combined for 10 K’s to stifle the Jags in Sunday’s finale.

After four weeks of action, Arkansas sits in the top 15 in all but one poll. The Hogs are ranked as high as 14th this week by D1 Baseball and Baseball America.

2020 week 5 rankings
D1 Baseball – No. 14
Baseball America – No. 14
USA Today Coaches – No. 15
Perfect Game – No. 15
Collegiate Baseball – No. 15
NCBWA – No. 16

After the series against Grand Canyon, the Razorbacks will open conference play at No. 17 Mississippi State this weekend in Starkville.

Information from Razorback Sports Communications is included in this story.

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Hogs Baseball

Opitz still confident with Wicklander, rest of pitchers after losing skid

Arkansas catcher Casey Opitz talked Thursday afternoon and has complete confidence in Patrick Wicklander, who will start the series Friday afternoon against South Alabama.

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Hogs Baseball

Moore, Noland, Opitz after downing Bulldogs in second game of series

Razorbacks second baseman Robert Moore (2-3, 2 RBI), winning pitcher Connor Noland (6 innings, 3 strikeouts) and catcher Casey Opitz (3-4, 2 RBI) on the 9-3 win.

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Hogs Baseball

Noland’s six solid innings, Moore’s big hit paces Hogs past Bulldogs, 9-3

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas put up multiple runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings to post a 9-3 victory over Gonzaga on Friday afternoon at Baum-Walker Stadium.

The Razorbacks (5-0) improved to 2-0 in the season series over the Bulldogs (2-4), with two games left to play on Saturday and Sunday. Arkansas scored nine runs on nine hits, while allowing just three runs on five hits.

A third of the Hog’s hits in game two came from catcher Casey Opitz, who was a double away from the cycle. All three of his hits came during the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, giving him five hits over the last two days.

He was joined by outfielder Christian Franklin and infielder Robert Moore with multi-hit performances on Friday.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Connor Noland picked up his second win of the year after tossing 6.0 innings against the Zags.

He allowed three runs, two earned, on five hits, walking three and striking out three to move to 2-0 on the year. Last season, Noland didn’t earn his second win until his 11th start.

Arkansas also got three solid frames out of the bullpen, seeing RHP Marshall Denton, lefty Zack Morris and right-hander Jacob Burton combine for two walks and a strikeout over 11 batters.

After three-and-a-half scoreless innings, the Hogs finally drew first blood with two outs in the bottom of the fourth.

After Goodheart was hit-by-a-pitch and moved to second, Christian Franklin shot a full-count single up the middle to score the first run of the day. He has a hit in all five games this season.

The Zags answered with a run of their own in the top of the fifth, capitalizing on a two-out error.

Ernie Yake began the rally with a single, then quickly got to third after a stolen-base, throwing-error combo. It would be fulfilled by a Brett Harris single up the middle in the next at-bat to even the score.

A wild bottom of the fifth inning would ensue, as Arkansas responded with four runs to take a 5-1 lead. The inning began with a pair of singles from Opitz and Cole Austin to put two on for Moore.

PHOTO BY ANDY HODGES | HITTHATLINE.COM

Then, with the infield thinking bunt and the shortstop attempting to execute a wheel play to cover third, Moore chopped an RBI single exactly where the shortstop had been playing to drive in a run.

Following Moore’s at-bat, Braydon Webb reached base after his bunt couldn’t be fielded by the pitcher, driving in Austin. A wild pitch and a sacrifice fly out from Franklin gave Arkansas five runs on the day.

After the four-spot by the Hogs, Gonzaga sent a two-run homer over the left field wall to make it 5-3.

The Hogs got the runs back in the bottom half of the inning to bring the score to 7-3. Opitz led off the frame with a triple off the right field wall, then a walk by Austin put runners on the corners for Moore, who roped a single to right field to score Opitz.

It was followed by a sac fly from Webb to right field for the second run of the inning.

Opitz would finish his day at the plate with two-run dinger into Gonzaga’s bullpen to bring the score to 9-3. It was Opitz’ first homer of the year and fourth of his career.

The Hogs and Bulldogs hit the field for game three on Saturday.

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Hogs Baseball

Moore, Monke, Opitz recapping Hogs’ win over Bulldogs to open series

Arkansas players Robert Moore, catcher Casey Opitz and pitcher Caden Monke talked after the game, including Opitz’ towering shot that was misplayed in the outfield for a hit.