In all sports, there’s a next-man-up mentality teams must have regarding injuries, and for Razorback Baseball, it’s no different.
The team’s pitching rotation has suffered some major blows during the offseason and during the regular season with the losses of Isaiah Campbell and Keaton McKinney.
Both McKinney and Campbell were set to have breakout years, but a pair of elbow injuries derailed those hopes.
“You know, we lost those two guys, McKinney and Campbell, it was a little bit of a blow, obviously,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “We knew we could hit, we thought we had some pitching, and we told the team right before the season started, ‘We’re just going to persevere. We’re going to do it without them, and we believe in you.’ And we just keep fighting.”
Sophomore pitcher Barrett Loseke said the rotation has plenty of depth.
“The depth in pitching that we have from the top to the bottom it seems like everyone has been pitching pretty well,” Loseke said.
The coaching staff is confident in the team’s ability to continue to win this season.
“All the coaches, we believed it,” Van Horn said. “We felt like we had enough. It’s hard losing those type of guys, but we knew we were going to have to score runs and play good defense, and so far we’ve done a pretty good job of that.”
Van Horn has confidence in his supporting pitching staff, but when that doesn’t work out, he uses that next-man-up mentality.
“I have to be (confident), it’s what we’ve got,” Van Horn said. “We’ve had some really good outings on Saturdays and Sundays, or game two and three, and like everybody else, we’ve had some days that didn’t go so well. So, when that happens, you go to the next guy.”
Because of that mentality, among other things, the team is looking strong going into final 20-game stretch of the season. They are atop the Southeastern Conference standings as of this weekend and they have already surpassed the 49 home run mark that was set last season. The team ERA has gone from 5.00 to 3.35 and with a 29-8 record, everything is looking up.
Sophomore pitcher Blaine Knight has made major contributions to that success.
“He gets the ball the first game of every series, and he goes out and eats up six, seven and eight innings most of the time and gives us a chance to save our bullpen a little bit,” Van Horn said. “He doesn’t walk very many people. He keeps the position players on their toes all the time, so that’s probably the way he sparks our team.”
Knight leads the team with a 1.89 ERA and a 6-1 record with only six walks allowed all season. He has been recognized on the watch list for the Golden Spikes Award, the award given to the best collegiate amateur baseball player in the country.
Knight notices and appreciates the run support he’s received for his excellent season.
“We can’t win without run-support,” Knight said. “You’re in the SEC, so you’re going to give up a couple runs, you’re not going to go out there and shut everybody out. For them to be putting up numbers like they’re doing right now is incredible.”
Junior outfielder Luke Bonfield has high praise for his ace pitcher.
“Blaine’s one of the best pitchers in the country, and he’s showing it,” Bonfield said. “He’s an extremely hard worker, (and an) extremely good person, too. So I think we’re all really happy that he’s doing really well. It takes a lot of pressure off our team, as well.”
The extra run support makes it easy for Knight to go out there and work the zone without much worry.
“There’s no stress,” Knight said. “You’ve got a lot of cushion to work with, so you can just go out there and fill up the zone, so that makes my job a lot easier.”
Young pitchers stepping up has been important to keeping the Hogs on the winning trail.
“Obviously Blaine (Knight) and Trevor (Stephan) have started off the weekends really well,” Loseke said. “Sometimes last year we didn’t really get off to a start on fridays and having Blaine to be able to do that has been key.”
With 20 games left in the season, the Hogs are hoping to keep winning and make it, once again, to the College World Series.
Sports Editor Matt Vigoda contributed to this report.