Super regional report:

Hogs sport good mark vs. field

By: Bob Holt , Tom Murphy
Published: Saturday, June 9, 2018
Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad talks to reporters following practice Friday, June 8, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad talks to reporters following practice Friday, June 8, 2018, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- National No. 5 seed Arkansas has an 11-6 record against the other 15 teams in the super regional round, the most victories and games played among the teams heading into the weekend.

No. 1 seed Florida, with a 9-7 record, has the second most in both categories. Vanderbilt (6-10) also has played 16 games against the remaining field.

The Razorbacks have the second-best winning percentage among teams who have played more than one game against the rest of the field. Only No. 3 seed Oregon State (4-2), with a .667 winning percentage, is ahead of the Razorbacks' .647 percentage.

Tennessee Tech, which is playing at No. 13 seed Texas, is 1-0 with a victory over Vanderbilt. Stetson is the only one of the 16 who had not faced one of the others.

The Razorbacks have faced six of the other teams playing in super regionals, including five in the half of the bracket that starts today.

The three super regionals that feature SEC teams have a combined 43-41 record vs. the rest of the final 16, and the other five super regionals combine for a 16-18 record against the others.

Records of the super 16, in order of victories: Arkansas 11-6, Florida 9-7, Mississippi State 7-5, Auburn 6-6, Vanderbilt 6-10, Oregon State 4-2, South Carolina 4-7, Duke 3-3, North Carolina 2-2, Washington 2-2, Texas 2-3, Tennessee Tech 1-0, Cal State-Fullerton 1-2, Texas Tech 1-3, Stetson 0-0, Minnesota 0-1.

Pitching plans

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville will stick with its standard weekend rotation, naming the trio of right-hander Blaine Knight, lefty Kacey Murphy and righty Isaiah Campbell as starters. South Carolina has changed things up.

Coach Mark Kingston said 6-5 right-hander Adam Hill (7-5, 3.99) would start tonight, and the Gamecocks will evaluate each game thereafter.

South Carolina right-hander Logan Chapman (3-3, 5.64) -- who pitched 4 innings of the Gamecocks' 3-2 victory over Arkansas on April 12, then allowed 6 earned runs on 3 hits and 3 walks in 1⅓ innings in a 13-8 loss to the Hogs at the SEC Tournament -- is not listed with the weekend rotation. The Gamecocks listed sophomore righty Cody Morris (8-3, 3.68) and freshman righty Carmen Mlodzinski (3-5, 4.84) in their notes.

Win now

Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn and South Carolina Coach Mark Kingston both said they don't plan to save any pitching for a potential third super regional game Monday.

"We won't hold anybody back," Van Horn said. "Unless there was a blowout or something, we'll go right after it, try to win each game and just look at the situation."

Said Kingston: "We'll play every game like it's a must-win game. We just want to continue to evaluate the trends of the series. How we use our bullpen will steer some of those decisions as we go."

Knight 'D'

Arkansas has not committed an error behind Blaine Knight in 11 of his 16 starts, including just one error in his past five home starts.

"He works really fast, and as an infielder you really appreciate that," second baseman Carson Shaddy said. "You're always moving and not sitting there waiting. You're on your toes the whole time.

"His competitive nature wears off on us, too. He's about the most competitive person I know. That also helps because you want to make plays for him."

Outfielder Eric Cole said the team feeds off Knight's demeanor.

"He's going to give us everything he's got, and he's got some attitude when he pitches," Cole said. "We know that we have to back up Blaine. He's going to throw strikes and put the ball in play. He's not leading the league in strikeouts or anything, so we know the ball is coming to us early in at-bats. It's why we've had so much success on Friday night."

Machine guns

South Carolina shipped its own pitching machine to Fayetteville via bus, and the Gamecocks took a hard-hitting batting practice against it set at 90 mph during Friday's workout.

Coach Mark Kingston had some fun talking about the machine after the practice.

"We put it on a bus and it came here," Kingston said. "It's been here for a few days getting acclimated. It got here a couple days ahead of us and sat by the pool just getting ready for today."

Asked how the machine performed, Kingston said: "It looked good. Threw a lot of strikes, was consistent. And that's what we ask out of our machine and our pitchers, to throw good, quality strikes."

Arkansas head Coach Dave Van Horn, hitting coach Nate Thompson and others throw batting practice and do not use a machine.

South Carolina third baseman Jonah Bride said the Gamecocks hit better off the machine Friday than they had all year.

"I don't know if it was throwing the ball straight, throwing something or if it was the atmosphere, everyone's hyped," Bride said. "I don't know, but it was a good round of BP today. We're excited and confident for [Saturday]."

In his dreams

Arkansas left fielder Heston Kjerstad had a flashback to when a fly ball from Dallas Baptist descended toward his glove in the fifth inning Sunday. The ball glanced off his glove and his left cheek, falling for a two-base error. He had seen the play before.

"A few months ago, honestly, I woke up from a bad dream where I'd dropped a fly ball," Kjerstad said. "The one that happened this past weekend, it was like the exact same thing. The atmosphere, where the ball was hit in the sky -- it was hit right next to a light -- it was like deja vu for me."

Kjerstad came in the dugout after that error and told pitching coach Wes Johnson about having the dream.

"He was like, 'Have you had any other dreams?' " Kjerstad said. "I said, 'Yes sir. I've had dreams of robbing a few home runs.' He was like, 'All right, you're probably about to have a catch to help us win this game.' "

Kjerstad got his glove well over the fence in the sixth inning to rob Dallas Baptist's Devlin Granberg of a would-be tying home run that protected Arkansas' 3-2 lead.

"In the moment, I was just trying to catch it," Kjerstad said. "Once I came down with it, it was a rush, being able to do something like that in a big game."

Super SEC

The Arkansas-South Carolina series is one of three All-SEC super regionals, along with Florida at Auburn and Mississippi State at Vanderbilt.

The other five super regionals don't involve an SEC team.

"I don't think it's a coincidence totally, but you had a couple of No. 2, No. 3 seeds that won their regionals," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. "So that's maybe unexpected.

"We were all put on the same side of the bracket, which is interesting. It's just the way it works. I don't know what to say about it. We're just worried about South Carolina."

South Carolina Athletic Director Ray Tanner is the NCAA Tournament selection committee chairman.

"So I'm sure as heck not going to question any decisions that were made there," Gamecocks Coach Mark Kingston said with a laugh. "I think all six SEC teams are happy to be playing with a chance to go to Omaha."

The SEC's six teams in super regionals are triple the amount of any other conference. The Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 12 each have two teams.

"I think it shows that SEC is the best league in America," Kingston said. "I don't think that can be argued at this point. There are a lot of good leagues out there, but the SEC is the best."

Hot Baum

The Razorbacks have a 3-1 lead in the season series against South Carolina, a 2-1 series victory at Baum Stadium in frigid conditions April 12-14, and a 13-8 victory in steamy Hoover, Ala., on a wet field at the SEC Tournament on May 23.

After the Gamecocks opened the regular-season series with 3-2 victory, sparked by Carlos Cortes' two-run home run in the fifth inning off Barrett Loseke, the Razorbacks threw a pair of seven-inning shutouts by scores of 2-0 and 3-0 two days later.

"It was freezing that whole weekend, and it was rainy that whole weekend," South Carolina Coach Mark Kingston said of that series. "So the conditions were not conducive to much offense that weekend

"I'm sure it will be hot and much different this time, so that series was won with pitching and defense. My guess is you'll see a little bit more complete baseball, you'll see a little more offense, but it still will always start with pitching and defense."

Future pros

Arkansas and South Carolina combined for 21 players selected in the Major League Baseball Draft this week, with 11 Razorbacks and 10 Gamecocks.

"That should make for a very entertaining watch for the fans and the media," South Carolina Coach Mark Kingston said. "They'll see a lot of good players out there that pretty soon when this tournament is over will be playing professional baseball."

Sports on 06/09/2018

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