Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Strong offenses collide at Baum
Arkansas third baseman Casey Martin is greeted by teammate Hunter Wilson after Martin hit a home run during a game against Texas on Wednesday, March 14, 2018, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- A season that has started with loads of hype for the Arkansas Razorbacks baseball team takes another stage tonight.
The No. 10 Razorbacks (13-4) host No. 4 Kentucky (14-3) in an SEC-opening series beginning tonight at 6:30 at Baum Stadium with a pair of aces on the mound facing two of the country's top offenses. The game will be part of wrap-around coverage of opening night on the SEC Network, but the full game can only be viewed online.
ARKANSAS vs. Kentucky
WHEN 6:30 p.m. today
WHERE Baum Stadium, Fayetteville
RECORDS No. 10 Arkansas 13-4; No. 4 Kentucky 14-3
STARTING PITCHERS Kentucky RHP Sean Hjelle (4-0, 1.35 ERA); Arkansas RHP Blaine Knight (3-0, 0.78)
RADIO Razorback Sports Network. Not all games will be carried by all affiliates. Check local listings.
SHORT HOPS Kentucky is No. 1 in the SEC in hitting (.324), No. 12 in pitching (3.76) and No. 10 in fielding (.974). … Kentucky senior Troy Squires won two national player of the week awards as well as SEC player of the week for hitting .571 with 5 doubles, 2 home runs, 6 runs and 11 RBI as the Wildcats went 3-1, including a series victory over No. 3 Texas Tech. … Arkansas DH Luke Bonfield has reached base in all 16 games he’s played. … Arkansas 1B Jordan McFarland is 6 for 9 (.667) with 10 RBI and 5 runs scored since striking out as a pinch hitter Sunday. … Arkansas 1B Jared Gates (hamstring), P Keaton McKinney and P Jackson Rutledge, who have both had arm soreness, are questionable this weekend.
THE WEEK AHEAD
TODAY Kentucky*, 6:30 p.m.
SATURDAY Kentucky*, 2 p.m.
SUNDAY Kentucky*, 1 p.m.
TUESDAY vs. Charlotte#, 6:05 p.m.
WEDNESDAY at Charlotte, 3 p.m.
*SEC game #at BB&T Ballpark, Charlotte
"Kentucky, from what we've seen on video and talking with other coaches, their lineup is really good top to bottom," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. "They can score. They can do a lot of different things."
Arkansas right-hander Blaine Knight (3-0, 0.78 ERA) will make his fifth start against 6-11 right-hander Sean Hjelle (4-0, 1.35), a preseason All-American who has won all of his starts this season.
Knight will face a Kentucky team that leads the SEC in batting average (.324) and home runs (30), ranking No. 9 and No. 4 nationally in those categories, respectively. Kentucky is tied for No. 6 with 155 runs, just ahead of Arkansas, which is No. 10 with 147.
The Razorbacks are No. 22 in batting average (.308), No. 7 in slugging percentage (.515) and No. 6 with 26 home runs.
The weekend pitching rotations for both teams might undergo shakeups. The Wildcats will be without normal Saturday starter Zack Thompson (2-0, 6.11), a junior who is being rested for soreness in his pitching arm. Thompson has 23 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings.
Kentucky has not announced a starter for Saturday's game. Junior right-hander Justin Lewis (3-1, 4.07), who has 37 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings, will start Sunday's 1 p.m. game.
Van Horn has not announced a starter beyond Knight tonight.
"I don't even know who my Saturday starter is," Van Horn said when asked who would start on Sunday. "We're not going to tell [Isaiah] Campbell he's pitching. We're not sure yet. We're going to go Blaine Knight and TBA. We're going to try to just win on Friday and then figure it out."
Campbell (1-2, 2.00) had a strong five-inning performance in a 5-2 victory over San Diego State on Feb. 24, but after picking up a tough-luck 3-1 loss after throwing 5 1/3 innings against USC, the sophomore had a short outing in a 10-4 loss to Kent State last Friday. The 6-4 right-hander gave up 5 hits and 2 walks while allowing 5 runs, 1 earned, in 3 2/3 innings. The Hogs' defense had glitches with runners dotting the bases.
"If Isaiah gets to pitch on Saturday I hope he elevates his game and gets back to how he pitched in San Diego, where he threw extremely well," Van Horn said.
Freshman right-hander Bryce Bonnin (1-0, 2.45 ERA) and junior left-hander Kacey Murphy (2-0, 1.12) are potential starting options.
A strong freshman influence has helped the Hogs both in pitching and hitting. Infielder Casey Martin leads the club with a .417 average, 6 home runs and 20 RBI, while Heston Kjerstad (.351, 2, 16) is fifth in average behind sophomore Jordan McFarland (.407, 2, 10), junior Eric Cole (.375, 4, 13) and senior Luke Bonfield (.362, 2, 12).
"The last couple of weeks he's just grabbed that third base position and said, 'That's mine,'" Van Horn said of Martin. "He plays good defense, shows a lot of range.
"We knew he was going to be electric. It was whether it was going to be this year or late in the year or next year. ... He's got power, obviously. He can really run and he's got a strong arm."
McFarland has capitalized on increased playing time at first base since senior Jared Gates tweaked his hamstring on Sunday. McFarland is 6 for 9 (.667) with 10 RBI and five runs scored since striking out as a pinch hitter on Sunday vs. Kent State.
The Wildcats (14-3) did not play a mid-week game after their scheduled game against Murray State was canceled due to weather.
Kentucky has seven regulars hitting .300 or better, led by Luke Heyer (.400, 8 HR, 21 RBI), Troy Squires (.373, 2, 22), T.J. Collett (.343, 8, 26), Ben Aklinski (.338, 1, 14) and Ryan Johnson (.333, 3, 15). Kole Cottam, a .317 hitter, has added five home runs to Kentucky's round-tripper barrage.
Hjelle (pronounced "jelly") came up big last Friday in a series-opening game against then-No. 3 Texas Tech in Lexington, Ky. He allowed three first-inning runs, two of them earned, but bore down for the rest of his stint. The Wildcats led 7-3 after his seven innings and wound up winning 10-7.
Kentucky also won 10-6 on Saturday before losing the series finale to the Red Raiders 5-3.
The Wildcats' other losses were against Xavier, 3-2 in their home opener, and 8-6 to Northern Kentucky on March 7.
Sports on 03/16/2018
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.