Arkansas’ Hitting Produced Some Clutch Hits in Opening Games

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Ben Ludeman / Texas Rangers

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas didn’t exactly dominate at the plate on Sunday and Monday in the State Farm College Baseball Showdown, but they did produce some clutch hits in both games.

The Razorbacks pounded out 11 hits in the 13-9 win over Texas Tech on Saturday, but then were limited to six hits in each of the games on Sunday and Monday. But it’s safe to say the Razorbacks got hits when they needed them the most.

The Hogs were without All-America senior Matt Goodheart due to a medical issue. The offensive performance left Dave Van Horn still not knowing exactly what he has on offense.

“I mean I don’t know yet to be honest with you,” Van Horn said. “I just have to see it a little bit longer. If you put Goodheart in there and we make a move here or there, it can be deep. Right now we have a couple of guys who aren’t swinging it real well. If you look at the weekend as a whole, we had a couple of guys here the first night, a couple of guys yesterday, and really a little bit of everybody tonight, but it took us about seven innings to get going. We’re still feeling our way … exactly what order I want to put these guys in that scores runs. Again, if we get Matt Goodheart  back in this lineup, it’s going to make it deeper and it’s going to be a tough lineup to maneuver through throughout the game. We feel like, hey, if we keep it close we can put together an inning or two and maybe win a game.”

Another All-America selection center fielder Christian Franklin struggled at the plate the majority of the weekend. He had two hits in 12 at bats, but it was his bat that showed up big on Monday night. In the top of the eighth and TCU leading 1-0, Franklin hit a triple that scored Jalen Battles to tie the game. Cullen Smith then singled to get Franklin across the plate with what proved to be the winning run. Van Horn wasn’t surprised when Franklin delivered in the clutch situation.

“We knew it was coming,” Van Horn said. “He hit a ball deep to center field the other night about 405. Lined out to left.  Hit the ball pretty good to center. Obviously he’s stuck out a little bit more than normal. But we kind of knew it was coming. He’s level-headed. He hung in there and we kept telling him, ‘It’s coming. Just keep swinging. You’re fine. We’re not upset. It happens.’ That’s the way the game works.”

While everyone knew it was coming, Franklin admitted the triple was a big relief for him.

“It was really big,” Franklin said. “I was just trying to stick to the process and not get ahead of myself. Going into that at bat I told myself not to get too big and  just stick to my game plan and my approach and that’s all you can do.  I hit a lot of balls hard and I knew if I kept doing that that eventually it was  going to fall.”

Senior catcher Casey Opitz is another All-America pick who came through for the Hogs when it counted the most. In the top of the ninth on Monday night, Opitz doubled to allow Brady Slavens to score for a 3-1 lead. Then Opitz was able to score on a wild pitch for Arkansas’ final run of the game. In addition, Opitz was outstanding behind the plate working with the pitching staff.

“As far as catching, he called, I think we sent in maybe three pitches the whole game,” Van Horn said. “He called every pitch, except those three. Obviously, he got us some low strikes with the way he handles his glove back there. He just makes everything look a little better than maybe it really is. He’s unbelievably valuable to this pitching staff.

“Obviously, the double, I mean the left-hander hadn’t given up a whole lot last year, this year. He’s got good stuff, and he stayed over some fastballs and fouled a couple off. I think he just made a mistake, left it out over the place and he drove it over the wall. That was huge for us.”

What was the TCU pitchers doing the first seven innings that caused the team so many issues?

“Their starter, the left-hander, he just moved the ball in and out,” Van Horn said. “He got us with a hard fastball in to our right-handers and locked us up. He’d pitch us away and then bust us in. We struck out a lot, but six or seven of them were probably backwards Ks. We didn’t even swing. We usually don’t do that too much. If we go down, we’re going down swinging. That’s what he did more than anything. He just mixed and matched. He’s a good pitcher. 

“The second guy, he had good stuff. What can you say? He was throwing hard and keeping the ball down. He had movement, sink. We just didn’t hit it.”

Slavens was 5-12 during the weekend at the plate as he was serving as designated hitter in Goodheart’s absence. When Goodheart returns Van Horn still has a plan for Slavens.

“We’ll see how that goes,” Van Horn said. “If Goodheart’s ready to go and he gets ready to hit and he feels good, we’ll probably DH him. The way we work things right now is a lot of times Smith will play third base, Slavens will play first. We could put Slavens in right field. There’s different options. I thought (Zack) Gregory did a nice job the two times he came in this weekend, so I’d like to get him a start or two this week. There’s some young guys I want to get some at bats, but I don’t know what’s going on with Matt right now as far as timetable on getting him back. But until we get him back, some other guys are going to get some opportunities and hopefully they do well.”

Franklin also was impressed with how Arkansas delivered late in two of the three games to get the sweep over a trio of ranked teams.

“You know that says something similar to the team we had in 2019 my freshman year,” Franklin said. “We had a good mix of younger guys and older guys and we pulled for each other and we have that on this team. We care about each other and coming back in the late innings like that shows we’re never out of it and our coaches do a good job keeping us fired up and that we’re never out of any game.”

Arkansas (3-0) will be back at Baum-Walker Stadium on Thursday to host Southeast Missouri State (2-1) at 3 p.m. It will be a four-game series.

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