It wasn’t too hot at Baum Stadium on Friday night, no matter what one of the walk-up songs might have suggested late in the baseball season opener.
Nelly’s tune “Hot in Herre” — and no, he can’t spell — seemed out of place with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees. The song was Jack Kenley’s pick for his first at-bat in the seventh inning.
It should have played earlier for freshman Heston Kjerstad. Too hot in the fall, Kjerstad had cooled a bit in January, until his batting practice Thursday. Kjerstad was a red-hot 3-for-4 to help No. 6 Arkansas roll Bucknell by a final of 14-2.
“He probably hasn’t been as hot (in January), but his batting practice yesterday was really good,” said Dave Van Horn, the Arkansas coach. “His batting practice today was good, too, and he took it to the game.”
Hitting in the fifth spot — moving regulars Grant Koch and Carson Shaddy down in the order — was just cozy for Kjerstad. He scorched an RBI single in the first and doubled off the wall in the second. The Amarillo, Texas, native scored three runs.
Kjerstad had a big smile after he laced his single to right in the first inning. He’d been nervous about the big moment ahead of the game. After the game as he entered the interview room he said, “I’m more nervous now than I was in the first inning for that at-bat.”
Actually, Kjerstad rolled in the interview room, too. He spoke firmly, and on point.
“There were a lot of emotions,” he said. “I was nervous, knowing I was ready. Then when I got the hit, I saw that ball going through the hole between first and second and I thought, ‘Remember the moment.’”
Shaddy, who hit ninth, wasn’t surprised. He said Kjerstad is wired for greatness. He predicted, “He’s a big leaguer. He had been doing that all fall.”
“We were joking around this morning and the last thing I’d expect was to hit (ninth),” Shaddy said. “The last time I did that was as a sophomore in high school. I told myself, maybe I’ll switch approaches, beat down the pitcher.”
That’s never been Shaddy’s approach. He told me last year after a big at-bat in an SEC series, “If I’m going to get you, it’s probably early in the count. I don’t take pitches.”
Shaddy did walk twice, including with the bases loaded in the first. His opposite-field homer added 3 RBIs in the second to put the Hogs up 10-0 and in cruise mode.
“I told Carson not to get up tight where he’s at in the order,” Van Horn said. “It might be that he hits eighth and I look at that as the clean-up guy the second time through. And, after the first inning, nothing matters anyway.”
Shaddy shrugged it off with a nod to Koch hitting seventh. That’s a lot of power at the bottom of the lineup. Those two combined for 21 homers last season.
“(Hitting ninth) is just a number,” Shaddy said. “I want to help the team no matter what is needed. Grant is a preseason All-American and he hit seventh. We have a lot of confidence with a freshman hitting fifth.”
Kjerstad added, “We have plenty of guys on this team who can hit fourth or fifth. We are good one through nine.”
The Hogs stroked 12 hits, but the key was drawing 15 walks. Jared Gates and Koch drew three apiece.
The UA pitching pounded the strike zone. Starter Blaine Knight issued two walks, but didn’t allow a hit in his five innings. Relievers Kole Ram-age, Bryce Bonnin and Barrett Loseke did not allow any walks.
It might have just come down to staying loose. Knight said the only issue was between the first and second inning when the Hogs batted for 30 minutes.
“I had on three jackets and a hot sleeve,” he said. “That was the interesting part.”
Van Horn said it’s tough on pitchers to find a grip. Knight said the cold was toughest to find the right control for his breaking pitches.
“I threw one curve in the first inning about 30 feet,” he said. “You just try to walk around and stay loose.”
Knight pitched through it. His fastball — and no one was calling anything a heater — was 90 to 91 mph with one hitting 94.
“I thought Blaine started slow, but he’s really grown up,” Van Horn said. “He was not trying to over power anybody. He just pitched.”
Indeed, it was a day to keep your clothes on.
Clay Henry can be reached at email@example.com .