Van Horn weighing his options for Hoover

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn returns to the dugout after speaking to his team before the Razorbacks' game with Southern California Friday, March 2, 2018, at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn returns to the dugout after speaking to his team before the Razorbacks' game with Southern California Friday, March 2, 2018, at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

HOOVER, Ala. — Blaine Knight won’t be the lead pitcher for the No. 7 Arkansas Razorbacks for the first time all season when the team opens play tonight in the SEC Tournament.

Coach Dave Van Horn and pitching coach Wes Johnson wanted to keep their ace Knight (9-0) on his normal rest, so the Razorbacks will put either left-hander Kacey Murphy (6-4) or right-hander Isaiah Campbell (4-5) on the mound for today’s nightcap at the Hoover Met.

At approximately 8 p.m., the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (37-17), co-champion of the SEC West and the No. 4 seed, will play No. 5 seed South Carolina (33-22), who defeated 12-seed Missouri 4-2 late Tuesday night.

Murphy would be working on one less day’s rest, but he threw only 70 pitches in four innings against Georgia before leaving with a 6-5 lead during a two-hour rain delay in what became an 8-7 loss in 10 innings on Friday. Knight threw 107 pitches in 6 innings in Thursday’s 8-6 victory for the Razorbacks.

“We’re going to wait and see who wins the game [Tuesday] night and we’ll go with either Murphy or Campbell, because Murphy threw only four innings then got knocked out because of the rain delay,” Van Horn said.

“Knight would be good to go but it would be a day short of rest. So we’ll either throw him Thursday or Friday.”

Knight, who ranks second in victories nationally among unbeaten pitchers, understands the pitching rationale.

“You know, I’ll be ready to go whenever they need me,” Knight said. “Thursday, Friday, or if they want to push me back to Saturday, that’s great, too. Whatever. I’m going to go out and get ready to pitch and have fun with it. This is a fun time of the year.”

The Razorbacks were projected as the No. 5 national seed by D1Baseball.com this week, but they’d like to win games in Hoover to firm up one of the coveted top eight seeds.

“You know I think we just need to go out and play baseball and not think of any of that,” second baseman Carson Shaddy said. “It will all take care of itself and we can’t control it.

“What we can control is how well we play, how we show up to the yard and our attitude for the next couple of weeks. … We’re going to try to win this, that’s for sure.”

Said outfielder Heston Kjerstad, “All we can do is control what we can control. … We have a few games in Hoover, go out there and play hard and have fun and those national rankings will take care of themselves.”

Outfielder Eric Cole said the Razorbacks would like to atone for last year’s 4-2 loss to LSU in the SEC Tournament championship game.

“We feel we’re a good team and can win some games down here,” Cole said. “Obviously it stings last year that we lost to LSU in the championships. It’s really coming down here having a good time and the rest of it will take care of itself.”

Van Horn takes a fairly simple approach to the tournament.

“We’re just going to try to win every game we play,” he said. “You always do. Our pitching is lined up and it’s fairly fresh. That’s what we see.”

From an injury standpoint, catcher Grant Koch is on the mend from his ankle injury and shortstop Jax Biggers is closer to game ready after breaking a bone on the tip of his left index finger on May 11.

Koch went 2 for 3 with a double and two RBI in the Hogs’ 3-2 loss in the rubber game of the Georgia series Saturday.

Biggers played only as a pinch runner for Koch in the ninth inning of the final game against Georgia.

“We’re hoping we can get Biggers back,” Van Horn said. “I don’t know if he’ll be ready to start Wednesday, but maybe Thursday. If not, we feel like he’ll be ready to go in the regional. He swung the bat [Monday] for the first time since he had the injury.”

SHORT HOPS

Arkansas has a 31-39 all-time record at the SEC Tournament. … Arkansas outscored opponents 42-10 while going 3-2 in the 2017 SEC Tournament, concluding with a 4-2 loss to LSU in the championship game. The Razorbacks won consecutive games by the scores of 12-0 (Auburn), 9-2 (Mississippi State) and 16-0 (Florida), including a combined seven inning no-hitter against Auburn by Dominic Taccolini, Matt Cronin and Josh Alberius. … Arkansas 1B Chad Spanberger earned tournament MVP honors by hitting .421 with 5 home runs, 10 RBI and a 1.368 slugging percentage. Spanberger became the first person to hit three home runs in an SEC Tournament game in the victory over Auburn. … The Razorbacks will play in the night game at the SEC Tournament for the second time in four years (also 2015).

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