Knight's junior season going according to script

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Friday, June 8, 2018
Blaine Knight, Arkansas pitcher, talks to the press Friday, June 8, 2018, during practice for the NCAA Fayetteville Super Regional at Baum Stadium.
Photo by Ben Goff
Blaine Knight, Arkansas pitcher, talks to the press Friday, June 8, 2018, during practice for the NCAA Fayetteville Super Regional at Baum Stadium.

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas left fielder Heston Kjerstad was unable to watch the live broadcast of the Razorbacks’ season-ending regional loss to Missouri State last June.

But he did make it a point to catch a re-run after playing in a high school playoff game. One portion of the game he remembers well is seeing right-hander Blaine Knight emerge from the left-field bullpen to make what he – and many others – thought was his final appearance in Baum Stadium.

Fast forward more than one year, and Knight is preparing for arguably the biggest start of his three-year Arkansas career against South Carolina, one that will likely set the tone for the weekend. Since super regional play began in 1999, teams that won the opener won the series 79 percent of the time.

Knight said he believes his junior season, to this point, has largely gone according to script. Now, all that’s left is one more time pushing Arkansas toward its ultimate goal of not only getting to the College World Series, but winning it.

“Anytime you have a veteran pitcher like (Knight) you’re excited to give him the ball. We know what we’re going to get out of him,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “He throws it over the plate and he’s going to make you earn it. To get to this point you’re going to have to have guys that can pitch like Blaine Knight and Kacey Murphy.

“If you don’t have those guys, you’re not playing anymore.”

Knight is the only pitcher in Division I baseball with an 11-0 record. He defers credit to Arkansas’ offense for providing run support. He was the 87th overall pick of the Baltimore Orioles in this week’s MLB Draft, bettering his 29th round selection of a year ago. There’s an apparent chip on his shoulder after being taken after a handful of pitchers he defeated head-to-head this season.

He’s been Arkansas’ dependable, trustworthy Friday night staple who’s bested the likes of Casey Mize, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Despite that, Knight isn’t perfectly content with how his season has played out. Not yet.

“I was going to do whatever I could do to help this team win,” Knight said. “To be honest with you, all 11 of those wins aren’t on account of me. The team should have 11 wins. I shouldn’t have that. I just did what I did to help the team win.

“I’m not because I expect so much. But I’m happy with the results so far. Is there stuff I could have changed? Yeah, but so far it’s been good, but we’re going to keep it up.”

Third baseman Casey Martin described Knight’s return to Arkansas as a “momentum swing.” Kjerstad, who said it’s easier to go the extra mile defensively for a Knight-type, described the situation similarly. Periodically, the SEC Freshman of the Year will call upon Knight’s pitching expertise for hitting tips.

“When you have a guy on the mound that has the status and accomplishments that he has … He deserves them all and there’s not a better person to have those,” Kjerstad said. “So when he’s out there you want to do anything you can do to make sure he gets even more of those accomplishments.”

Catcher Grant Koch learned long ago to expect Knight’s best effort each time out. Regardless the accolade or outcome, which has fallen in Knight’s favor in most starts this season, the junior remains the same competitive, level-headed pitcher day after day.

A challenge from pitching coach Wes Johnson this preseason to break from social media for the season has paid dividends, too, Knight said.

“He’s earned it all, and I think that’s the biggest thing,” Koch said. “He knows how good he is. He’s gone out and executed every bit of it. Kudos to him for of how competitive he is and how hard he works and the preparation he does. The record, the ERA, all of that – he’s earned it.

“Working with him has been unbelievable the last three years. Him and I have a really good relationship, so I’m looking forward to more of the same on Saturday.”

Knight pitched one of his most efficient games of 2018 last Friday against Oral Roberts, allowing two runs on three hits in eight innings. Now he gets a chance to atone for one of his worst starts of the year.

The Gamecocks tagged Knight with six hits and an earned run over four innings on April 12 in a 3-2 South Carolina win. Gamecocks coach Mark Kingston said Knight perhaps made pitches that weren’t as sharp as usual and his club was able to take advantage.

Like Koch, though, he expects Knight to be at the top of his game Saturday.

“He’s very good. He was drafted that high for a reason,” Kingston said. “His record is what it is for a reason, so we know he’s one of the best in the country. We’re going to have to be at our best as well.”

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