FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The third-ranked Razorback Baseball team used plenty of offense and got a strong start from junior Blaine Knight to cruise past Bucknell, 14-2, Friday afternoon at Baum Stadium.
Knight, who was making his second-straight Opening Day start, didn’t give up a hit over five innings while walking only two and striking out four. The Bryant, Arkansas native only needed 67 pitches to make it five innings as he went three up and three down over his final three innings of work.
With Friday being Knight’s second Opening Day start in a row, it was also his third year to be part of the starting rotation on Opening Weekend. Combined over the last three years, Knight has struck out 12 batters in 14 innings, while allowing just two runs and walking two in his first starts to a season.
At the plate, freshman Heston Kjerstad led all Razorback hitters as he went 3-for-4 with a double and a single, all in his first three at-bats. His first collegiate hit also helped Arkansas score its first run of the season, singling with two outs through the right side in the first to score Jax Biggers. It was part of a four-run inning that helped kick-start the offense and was only the beginning of the big showing by the bats.
Arkansas plated 14 runs on 12 hits in the game. It was the largest run output by an Arkansas team on Opening Day since 2001 when it brought 25 runs across against Missouri Southern. The lineup also drew 15 walks in the game to frustrate the Bucknell pitching staff.
Along with Kjerstad, Eric Cole earned his first multi-hit performance of the season, going 2-for-5 with two runs scored and an RBI. Senior Carson Shaddy provided the lone big fly of the afternoon as his second inning home run brought three runs, part of a six-run frame to break the game wide open at 10-0.
Moments That Mattered
The Razorbacks were able to show its depth in the early goings as Biggers was penciled in to lead off the game by head coach Dave Van Horn. The junior proceeded to reach on a bunt single on the fourth pitch of the game to rattle Bucknell’s starting pitcher early. It was Biggers’ only hit of the game and he later scored on Kjerstad’s single.
Arkansas eventually put seven runs on the board before Bucknell was forced to go to its bullpen for the first time. Bison starter Connor Van Hoose only made it 1.1 innings, walking four and striking out one. The Hogs were able to draw four-straight walks and get Van Hoose called for a balk to bat around in the first inning.
In the second, Dominic Fletcher led off with a double that nearly cleared the fence in right field before Bonfield singled him home two batters later. Kjerstad’s double in the next at-bat chased Van Hoose to help start the big inning for the Hogs.
After Blaine Knight was masterful through five innings, freshmen Kole Ramage and Bryce Bonnin allowed just two hits combined over the next three innings. Bucknell did score twice in the eighth off Bonnin, but they came at the expense of two Hog errors.
Junior Barrett Loseke finished off the ninth inning with a perfect frame and two strikeouts to give Arkansas the 14-2 victory.
“I’m proud of pitching staff for doing such a great job, but, obviously, on the offensive end we got a big two-out hit in the first to score the first run and we ended up scoring three more. We piled it on in the second a little bit and got some doubles. The big two-out home run kind of capped if off by Carson Shaddy. It was a good game all around.” – Head coach Dave Van Horn on the 14-2 win over Bucknell
“It was a clutch at-bat of the inning because before him struck out and left a couple guys out there in scoring position. We needed an RBI there and he (Heston Kjerstad) came through with a big hit to score the runner from second. It changed the game and changed how long their starter was going to be in. He was out there for another five or six hitters and probably another 25 pitches. It pretty much set the tone for the game once we put those four runs up in the first” – Head coach Dave Van Horn on Heston Kjerstad first collegiate hit
“That first at-bat I had a lot of emotions from nervousness. I have been waiting for that bat ever since I came here in the fall. I soon as I made contact with the ball and saw it through the hole, I had a flash to remember that moment forever. Then, as soon as I got on first base and could see the crowd cheering, that’s when it set in. – Heston Kjerstad on his first hit of the game
“I just tried to stay middle-away. I knew they were going to throw me middle-away, so my approach was to take everything to right field. Walking up to the plate, I saw runners in scoring position, so I was just trying to be aggressive.” – Carson Shaddy on his home run
“That was a problem today. Trying to stay loose, especially with it being cold. When it’s warm, it’s not a big issue, but with it being cold I had to throw and walk around. I had three jackets on and a heat sleeve. I made it work and kept throwing strikes.” – Blaine Knight on how he handled the cold temperatures and long innings
The Razorbacks will meet Bucknell again on Saturday for game two of the three game series. First pitch is slated for 11:32 a.m. and will be televised on SEC Network+.