Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Fisher cleans up for Arkansas
Arkansas first baseman Eric Fisher is greeted by teammate Brian Anderson as he crosses home plate after a solo home run in the third inning of Friday afternoon's season opener at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Eric Fisher didn’t look rusty after redshirting last season for Arkansas’ baseball team.
The third-year sophomore from Spring, Texas, looked comfortable at first base and batting cleanup as he helped the No. 1-ranked Razorbacks beat Western Illinois 9-1 in the season opener Friday before an announced crowd of 4,734 at Baum Stadium.
Fisher went 2 for 4, including his first Arkansas home run, with three runs batted in. He hit a two-run single to give Arkansas a 2-0 lead in the first inning, then hit a home run in the third to make it 3-0 and start a five-run rally that made it 7-0.
“It definitely helps to get rid of some of the nerves and kind of helps with moving forward,” Fisher said. “I feel like going into the next couple of games I’ll be a lot more relaxed and feel good going up to the plate.”
Arkansas (1-0) vs. Western Illinois (0-1)
WHEN: 12:05 p.m.
WHERE: Baum Stadium, Fayetteville
PITCHING MATCHUP: Western Illinois: John White (RHP) vs. Arkansas: Barrett Astin (RHP)
Fisher said he knew he’d be playing first base for junior Dominic Ficociello - who moved to second base - but he wasn’t put into the No. 4 spot in the batting order until shortly before the game when Ficociello aggravated an oblique injury taking grounders before the game and was taken out of the lineup by Coach Dave Van Horn.
“Four-hole is a big spot, but I just made sure not to put any extra pressure on myself,” Fisher said. “I just made sure whenever I went to the plate to relax and do my job.”
Fisher may continue bat-ting cleanup during the three game series because Van Horn said Ficociello will be held out today and Sunday.
“We thought it was healed,” Van Horn said. “Obviously, it wasn’t.”
Van Horn said Ficociello may be able to play against New Orleans on Tuesday or Wednesday but could have to wait until next weekend’s series against Evansville.
“We’ll just have to play it day-to-day,” Van Horn said. “I don’t want to rush him.”
Arkansas junior starter Ryne Stanek (1-0) held Western Illinois to 1 run and 2 hits in 4 innings with 4 strikeouts and 1 walk on 66 pitches. He earned credit for the victory without going 5 innings because his pitch count was determined before the game.
The Leathernecks’ run came in the fourth inning when Dan Dispensa hit a home run over the left-field fence.
“I think Stanek would probably be the first one to tell you he didn’t have very good stuff,” Van Horn said. “He didn’t command his fastball very much. He had his moments, but really, we were just throwing the fastball early.”
Stanek retired the first six batters but went to full counts on the first two hitters.
“He’s got to conserve some pitches and he’s got to go after hitters early,” Van Horn said. “He’s got to get them to make contact early. He was behind in the count a lot, but he just threw good enough.”
Stanek said he had “OK” stuff.
“My command wasn’t as good as it should have been,” he said. “I wasted a lot of fastballs and left a lot of pitches up.”
Freshman Trey Killian replaced Stanek and retired all nine batters he faced.
“It was great to see Killian come in and just fill up the zone with his fastball,” Van Horn said. “He was spotting it and threw a couple of nice breaking balls.”
Western Illinois starter Nick Smith (0-1) held Georgia to 2 earned runs in 7 2/3 innings last season, but the Razorbacks roughed him up for 7 hits and 7 runs with 6 walks in 3 innings.
Jacob Mahan, who started at second in Ficociello’s place, went 2 for 2 with 1 run and 1 RBI. Third baseman Brian Anderson went 2 for 2 with 3 walks.
“We definitely didn’t overlook [Smith],” Fisher said. “I think that we came into today’s game with a good attitude and the right mind-set. We made him throw a lot of pitches at the beginning and really got after him.”
Smith started the game by walking Matt Vinson and Jacob Morris, who advanced to second and third on a sacrifice bunt by Tyler Spoon. Fisher then singled up the middle. He led off the third by hitting a 1-1 fastball over the right-field fence.
“He kind of left it over the middle of the plate and I took advantage of it,” Fisher said. “I hit it and I was running out of the box and started to look at it and realized it definitely had a chance. Whenever it went over, it was a good feeling.”
Arkansas junior second baseman Dominic Ficociello sat out Friday’s game because of a strained oblique muscle. ... Razorbacks freshman right-hander Trey Killian retired all nine batters he faced. ... Arkansas won its 19th consecutive season opener and improved to 43-11 in openers since 1960. The Razorbacks last lost an opener at TCU, 7-3, in 1994. ... The Razorbacks are 5-0 against Western Illinois.
TODAY vs. Western Illinois 12:05 p.m.
SUNDAY vs. Western Illinois 1:05 p.m.
TUESDAY vs. New Orleans 3:05 p.m.
WEDNESDAY vs. New Orleans 3:05 p.m.
Sports, Pages 19 on 02/16/2013