Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Razorback Baseball Notebook:
Opitz OK after big collision
Arkansas catcher Casey Opitz (left) walks off the field with trainer Corey Wood after Opitz was involved in a collision during a game against Southeast Missouri State on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas catcher Casey Opitz passed concussion protocol following a third-inning collision Sunday during the Razorbacks’ 11-4 victory over Southeast Missouri State in five innings.
Opitz reached base on an error when pitcher Connery O’Donnell overthrew first baseman Austin Blazevic. The 6-2, 203-pound Blazevic jumped to try to catch the ball and collided with Opitz on his way down.
Opitz fell backward on the collision and his head whipped against the ground when he landed. Opitz was evaluated on the field for a couple of minutes but was able to walk off on his own power.
He was taken out of the game as a precaution and replaced by freshman Dylan Leach.
“He did kind of hurt his wrist a little bit when he went down, but it was looked at. There was no breaks or anything,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “It’s probably — it’s just sore. We’re keeping an eye on that, icing it a little bit. He’s in good spirits and looks like he’s going to be OK.”
Opitz, who hit a double and scored during the second inning, tweeted a video of the collision after the game with a one-word response.
"Safe," he said.
Hot Springs Lakeside product Ethan Bates made his Razorback debut during the ninth inning of Saturday’s game when he was inserted as a defensive replacement at third base.
On Sunday, Bates made his first start as a left fielder and went 1-for-2 with a walk. Bates had an RBI single during the Razorbacks’ six-run fourth inning.
“He showed me a really good approach today,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “He battled and battled and drew a walk. He battled and got him a nice pitch and got on top of it. He brings some pop. He’s a left-handed bat, and I think he can help us this year, and he’s going to be a force the next couple years.”
Prior to the game, Van Horn said Bates gave the lineup more left-handed hitters to go against SEMO right-handed starter Austin Williams.
Bates was the third player to start for Arkansas in left field during the four-game series. Zack Gregory started twice and Braydon Webb — who started the first three games of the season in left — started Friday.
“I’m looking for somebody in left field — obviously he needs to play defense — but we need a bat there,” Van Horn said. “We need to start swinging the bat. A corner outfielder has got to hit. If you’re not going to hit for average, you need to hit for power. If you’re not a base-stealer, you’ve got to hit for a little power.
“I really like Bates at the plate. He’s been working pretty much all in the outfield since we got back from the Christmas break. He’s got a ways to go. He runs well. His routes [to the ball] are still in need of a lot of work, but that’s normal.”
Arkansas hit three more home runs Sunday to bring its season total to 11.
Cayden Wallace and Brady Slavens hit back-to-back home runs to lead off the second inning to give the Razorbacks a 2-0 lead. Matt Goodheart added a two-run homer in the fourth inning to extend Arkansas’ lead to 8-3.
The Razorbacks hit 10 home runs during the four-game series against SEMO. Slavens and Christian Franklin hit home runs Thursday; Franklin, Wallace, Robert Moore and Charlie Welch hit home runs to account for all seven of Arkansas’ runs Friday; and Franklin hit his third home run of the series Saturday.
Prior to the SEMO series, Slavens had Arkansas’ only home run through three games. Slavens and Franklin lead the team with three homers apiece.
Jalen Battles and Brady Slavens each had two RBI hits Sunday and are tied for the team lead with 8 RBI.
Slavens hit a solo home run during the second inning and an RBI double in the fourth, and Battles had RBI singles in the second and fourth innings.
Five of Slavens’ RBI have come on home runs. Battles does not have a home run this season.
Arkansas’ media guide does not include any instance of a five-inning game being played.
The Razorbacks’ shortest recorded game was played in 2011, when Arkansas defeated Kentucky 5-1 on the road in six innings.
According to NCAA rules, a game can be ruled official if it lasts at least five innings.
Arkansas extended its win streak to 11 games Sunday.
The Razorbacks are 7-0 this year and won their final four games before the 2020 season was suspended.
The 11-game win streak is Arkansas’ longest since 2010, when the Razorbacks won 13 straight games in March and April.
Arkansas is 7-0 for the second consecutive season.
Jalen Battles and Brady Slavens had stolen bases for the Razorbacks and improved the team total to 10 of 11 this year.
SEMO went 5 of 5 on stolen base tries, giving opponents 14 of 16 on the year. The Redhawks executed a double steal twice.
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