Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
'He's been incredible': Kenley making most of larger role
Arkansas Texas Christian Saturday, June 1, 2019, during the inning at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville. Visit nwadg.com/photos to see more photographs from the game.
FAYETTEVILLE — Dave Van Horn remembers the days when Jack Kenley didn't have a batting average as Arkansas readied for Southeastern Conference Tournament play.
That was two years ago during his first season with the Razorbacks. He started six games as a freshman, finishing the year with a .133 average, and was largely used as a defensive replacement.
Fast forward to Kenley's junior season and he's been everything Van Horn could have asked for and more. He also played a valuable role in Arkansas advancing Sunday to face rival Ole Miss in next weekend's super regional round.
Kenley went 2-for-4 and was one of three Razorbacks to drive in a pair of runs in Arkansas' 6-0 win over TCU in the NCAA Fayetteville Regional final at Baum-Walker Stadium.
"He got his shot this year and he's really taken advantage of it," Van Horn said. "We wouldn't be sitting right here right now if it wasn't for him having the year he's had. He's been incredible."
Hitting sixth in the Arkansas order, Kenley had a hand in the Razorbacks hanging three runs in the first inning off TCU starter Jared Janczak, doubling to left-center field and scoring Dominic Fletcher, who earlier plated two runs with an opposite-field double of his own.
First baseman Trevor Ezell said Kenley has probably been Arkansas' most clutch two-out hitter all season. Both of his run-scoring hits Sunday came with two away in the inning.
In the eighth with the Razorbacks leading 5-0, Kenley added another insurance run and set the final score with a single up the middle off reliever Augie Mihlbauer, scoring Fletcher again.
It was his team-leading 22nd two-out RBI of the year.
"I think we just saw (his fight) in his last at-bat really," Ezell added. "He’s had a big year for us, and he’s going to continue to do that as long as we play the rest of the year. He’s been a really big piece down there in the bottom half of the order that keeps the lineup going."
Entering his third season at Arkansas, Kenley wasn't considered to be much of a factor at the plate. He'd totaled just 16 hits - zero home runs - in 84 career at-bats and driven in only 12 runs.
But, given the chance to play every day in 2019, he is third on the team in RBI (50) behind only Fletcher (56) and shortstop Casey Martin (53), and second in home runs with 12.
"Jack’s been a huge piece of this offense all year," said Razorbacks designated hitter Matt Goodheart, who hit a 380-foot two-run home run off the scoreboard in the fifth to blow the game open. "It seems like he’s never doing that bad.
"He’s been a big part, and he’s also a leader on and off the field."
Kenley, once a utility player waiting his turn and paying his dues behind the likes of All-SEC second baseman Carson Shaddy, is now relishing the opportunity to be a major contributor on a team in the hunt for a national championship.
"It’s a lot of fun," Kenley said in late May. "Obviously I came here expecting to be in this role right now.
"The ability to come out here and play with my guys, people who I’ve grown up with and been around several years now, getting to play with them now is a lot of fun."
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.