FAYETTEVILLE — Those eighth, seventh,even sixth innings that Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn didn’t let Blaine Knight pitch, even as Knight seemed in early-season rhythm perhaps allowed the Razorbacks right-hander, Friday, to pitch eight complete in 92-degree heat.
The junior right-hander from Bryant, now 11-0, threw a three-hitter, turning over the winning 10-2 margin for reliever Cody Scroggins to complete the ninth of Arkansas’ first-round Fayetteville Regional victory over the Tulsa-based Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles on a feverish Friday afternoon before just under 9,000 at Arkansas’ Baum Stadium.
Van Horn was asked in Friday’s postgame if some of those late innings that Knight didn’t pitch in February, March and April factored in him pitching a great eight in the heat.
“There's probably four or five games where we got him in the sixth or seventh,” Van Horn said. “And, when I went out there he would say, ‘I've got another inning in me. I'm fine.’ I would always comment, 'We're going to need that later.' He knew what I meant.”
A strong bullpen with Matt Cronin, Jake Reindl and from midseason on Barrett Loseke, made it easier for Van Horn to remove Knight with innings to go and games not necessarily secured.
“You never know how it's going to go,” Van Horn said. “But, we have confidence in our bullpen. We felt like we were going to get to a regional one way or another and wanted him to be as strong as he could be. I would say the way he threw today, I'd say it definitely helped.”
Knight going eight padded by Arkansas’ 14-hits/10-runs attack, including four home runs, enabled Van Horn to keep his top relievers fresh going into Saturday night’s winner’s bracket game against more Golden Eagles, the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles.
Southern Miss, the Conference USA champion seeded second to SEC West co-champion Arkansas at the Fayetteville Regional, drills Dallas Baptist 9-0 in Friday night’s second game of the four-team double-elimination regional.
ORU and Dallas Baptist were scheduled to clash in Saturday’s 2 p.m. loser’s bracket game.
Depending on Saturday night’s Arkansas versus Southern Miss outcome, the Razorbacks either advance to Sunday night’s championship against Sunday afternoon’s loser’s bracket winner.
A winner take all championship looms Monday night if Sunday night’s previously tournament unbeaten team is defeated.
That’s a lot of games for a staff that has had to expend its bullpen, which Arkansas, for at least one game, has not.
“We won’t know how big it was until this thing gets into a couple more games and what happens with our pitching,” Van Horn said of Knight going eight Friday. “But we may be talking again that he set the tone, and gave us a chance to have enough pitching to get through it or whatever happens.”
BIGGERS’ BIG BREAK
A .338 hitter last year but often slumping in the early and midseason this year, junior shortstop Jax Biggers seems to have put a finger on what’s wrong since coming back from missing six games with a broken finger.
Biggers went 3-for-6 upon his return in Arkansas’ final two games at last week’s SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama, and against Oral Roberts, he went 2-for-4.
Biggers prefaced the first of freshman left fielder Heston Kjerstad’s two 2-run homers against ORU with a leadoff single batting ninth and then hit a 2-run home run of his own.
“I kind of kidded with him the other day,” Van Horn said. “’If I’d known you were going to swing the bat this well, we would have smashed your finger a long time ago.’ He’s swinging the bat now like he did last year. And, I think he just needed a little time mentally to get away and be off to the side and realize, ‘It’s not as hard as I’m making it out to be in my mind.’ He got three hits in Hoover in six official at-bats, a couple walks and then, today, I think he singled and homered. Just doing a good job I think of trying to shoot the ball through the middle. His swing seemed a little shorter to me, and him hitting a home run today into a light breeze, I wasn’t expecting that at all. It’s been good to see that. It’s been pretty impressive.”