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Successful opener: Knight’s pitching, 4 HRs carry Hogs

by Bob Holt | June 2, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.
Blaine Knight, Arkansas starter, delivers to an Oral Roberts batter Friday, June 1, 2018, during game one of the NCAA regional at Baum Stadium. Arkansas won 10-2.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The Arkansas Razorbacks are making a habit of beating Oral Roberts University in the NCAA Tournament.

The Razorbacks did it to the Golden Eagles again Friday before an announced crowd of 8,872 at Baum Stadium where they won 10-2 to open the Fayetteville Regional.

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (40-18) will play at 7 tonight against Southern Miss, which beat Dallas Baptist 9-0 on Friday night. ORU (38-19) will play Dallas Baptist at 2 p.m. today.

Arkansas is 4-0 against ORU in regional games the last four seasons. The Razorbacks beat the Golden Eagles 8-6 in the Stillwater (Okla.) Regional in 2015 and 3-0 and 4-3 in the Fayetteville Regional last season.

"I think more than anything they have good teams," ORU Coach Ryan Folmar said. "You can talk about the home-field advantage and that's part of it, but that's a good club. I think as much as any thing else they have good players, they're well-coached and it's a good team."

Freshman left fielder Heston Kjerstad led Arkansas' 14-hit attack with a pair of two-run home runs. He also had a single and finished 3 for 4 for 4 runs batted in.

Ten Razorbacks had at least one hit, including Hunter Wilson, who came off the bench in the seventh inning to pinch run for Luke Bonfield.

"That just shows the strength in our lineup," Kjerstad said. "Every guy can hit the ball well. It's hard to pitch against a team where everyone one through nine is a threat."

Arkansas second baseman Carson Shaddy and shortstop Jax Biggers -- playing with a splint on his left finger -- each hit home runs to give the Razorbacks four for the game. Center fielder Dominic Fletcher was 2 for 4. Biggers and catcher Grant Koch each drove in two runs.

"They've all aggressive hitters," Golden Eagles starting pitcher Justin McGregor said. "We knew that coming in. It came down to executing pitches when we had to and, well, they just hit the mistakes like they should."

Arkansas junior right-hander Blaine Knight (11-0) matched his career-long start with eight innings and held ORU to 2 runs, 3 hits and 1 walk with 2 strikeouts. He threw 67 strikes on 104 pitches.

"Knight just kept peppering the zone," Razorbacks Coach Dave Van Horn said. "We were trying to get as many innings out of him as we could, obviously in the first game of the tournament. He gave us exactly what we were hoping for."

Arkansas led 2-1 going into the bottom of the sixth inning thanks to Kjerstad's home run in the third.

"For a while it looked like it was going to be a pitcher's duel," Van Horn said. "I thought McGregor threw extremely well, especially early. He really never threw the ball over the plate. He kept us off balance.

"He threw a lot of changeups to our left-handed hitters and against the righties he kept the fastball away for the most part and kept the ball down."

The Razorbacks finally got to McGregor (6-1) in the sixth inning when they scored four runs -- including home runs by sixth-place hitter Shaddy and ninth-place hitter Biggers -- to take control of the game with a 6-1 lead.

"They have depth to their line-up and they had some damage done at the bottom of their line-up," Folmar said. "Every time we made a mistake they hit it and hit it well."

Knight appreciated the run support. The Razorbacks have averaged 6.6 runs in his 16 starts against the opponents' top starter.

"It's awesome," Knight said. "They've produced for me all year long. My outings wouldn't be what they were if it wasn't for our offense. So big thanks to them. I really hope they keep it up."

In some games earlier in the season Van Horn pulled Knight when he was still pitching effectively.

"There's probably four or five games where we got him in the sixth or seventh and when I went out there he would say, 'I've got another inning in me. I'm fine,' " Van Horn said. "I would always comment, 'We're going to need that later.' He knew what I meant.

"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. The way he threw today, I'd say it definitely helped."

Both of ORU's runs off Knight came on home runs by catcher Riley Keizor in the fifth and seventh innings.

"He sat on two pitches and hit them out," Knight said. "So props to him."

Van Horn said it was a relief to win the regional opener.

"Day One, to me, is always the hardest part of the regional," he said. "There's a lot of nerves, there's a lot of anticipation.

"You just want to get out there and play and to me it seemed like both teams were pretty tight the first two or three innings at the plate and then it seemed to loosen up after that."

The Razorbacks improved to 30-3 this season at Baum Stadium, where they've won 11 in a row since losing to South Carolina 3-2 on April 12.

"It's a big advantage," McGregor said. "Just coming in knowing there's 9,000 people against you."

Cody Scroggins pitched the ninth inning, so the Razorbacks have the rest of their bullpen -- led by Matt Cronin, Jake Reindl and Barrett Loseke -- rested with Kacey Murphy (7-4, 3.15 ERA) starting tonight's game thanks to Knight.

"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. "But we may be talking again about how that set the tone and gave us a chance to have enough pitching to get through it."

Sports on 06/02/2018


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