Exhibition 'small deal' but valuable

By: Bob Holt
Published: Friday, October 5, 2018
Wichita State coach Todd Butler eight seasons as an assistant coach at Arkansas from 2006-13.
Photo by Fernando Salazar, The Wichita Eagle
Wichita State coach Todd Butler eight seasons as an assistant coach at Arkansas from 2006-13.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The last time the University of Arkansas baseball team played Wichita State, the Razorbacks won 3-1 in an NCAA regional elimination game on June 1, 2013, at Manhattan, Kan.

The stakes won't be as high when the teams meet at 6 tonight at Baum Stadium.

Arkansas will play Wichita State in an exhibition game that won't count on either team's record.

That doesn't mean Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn won't play to win.

"When you play, you try to win," Van Horn said. "That's the way we look at it. The other team is going to try to win, so we're going to try to win. Is it a big deal? ... I guess it just depends on how you look at it."

How does Van Horn look at it?

"It'd be a big deal if it was a real game in February," he said. "It's a small deal."

Shockers Coach Todd Butler was an assistant coach under Van Horn at Arkansas for eight seasons before replacing Gene Stephenson at Wichita State in 2014.

"It's going to be fun to see Todd," Van Horn said. "He's really looking forward to it. His daughter goes to school here. His wife is coming, so it will be good."

The Razorbacks are playing their first of two fall exhibitions -- allowed by a new NCAA rule -- after their scheduled opener at Oklahoma on Sept. 22 was canceled due to inclement weather.

Arkansas, which will play at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock next Friday, started practicing on Sept. 7.

"It's a long fall, obviously, just playing our own team," Razorbacks infielder Casey Martin said. "You see the same pitching every week, same players, same hitters. It's nice to go outside of what we've been doing for a long time and actually play another team."

Martin played primarily third base last season when he hit a team-leading .345 with 13 home runs and 49 RBI, but he's been at shortstop and second base this fall.

Van Horn said Martin will start at shortstop tonight. The rest of the starting lineup will be catcher Casey Opitz, first baseman Jordan McFarland, second baseman Jacob Nesbitt, third baseman Jack Kenley, left fielder Christian Franklin, center fielder Dominic Fletcher, right fielder Heston Kjerstad and designated hitter Matt Goodheart.

Right-hander Isaiah Campbell will start on the mound.

"More than anything, it gives us a chance to get one team on the field," Van Horn said. "It sends a message that it's a little harder to get in the lineup."

Van Horn said Campbell, a junior who projects as the Razorbacks' No. 1 starter, will pitch no more than four innings.

"He's been dominant, just as always," Fletcher said. "Pretty much comes out and does his job, so it's been fun to face him. He has electric stuff."

Several other pitchers will work after Campbell. The game will likely go 14 innings to give both teams a chance to use plenty of players.

"I just want to see them play hard," Van Horn said. "That gives them an idea of where they're at. Towards the end of the game, you'll see some of our younger pitchers and see how they handle competition."

Fletcher and Kjerstad -- who played left field while batting .332 with 15 home runs and 58 RBI as a freshman -- are returning starters along with Martin.

"Obviously, we'd like to win," Martin said. "But there are things we need to work on with such a young team this year, since we lost a lot of older guys. There's a lot of shoes to fill."

Tonight's game is free for fans and Van Horn said he's expecting a good-sized crowd that will help the newcomers get used to playing at the SEC level.

"When someone makes a mistake out there, my comment is usually, 'If you can't handle it in front of the team and a few people standing there, then how are you going to handle it in front of 8,000 people?' " Van Horn said. "It's good to just get them to think about that a little bit and kind of push them along. I think these young guys playing in front of a crowd will be a real good thing."

Sports on 10/05/2018

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