Casey Opitz Gives Hogs Lift in Game 1 Against Gonzaga

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Photo Courtesy: University of Arkansas Athletics

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas never trailed on Thursday, but had a hard time putting Gonzaga away in a 7-5 victory.

One of Arkansas’ heroes on the day was junior catcher Casey Opitz. He had two hits in four at bats including a double that resulted in a pair of runs scoring. In the third inning, Opitz hit a pop up to shallow center field. The wind was strong and Gonzaga center fielder Josh Bristyan misplayed the ball. Casey Martin and Christian Franklin scored on the double. Following the game, Opitz talked about the wind and issues it caused.

“You have got to love that,” Opitz said. “That’s baseball, especially playing out here where you can get the crazy wind going wherever. Van Horn talked to us early and said ‘if the ball goes up, bust your butt and get to the next bag. The baseball gods were on my side today.”

Of course, Gonzaga third baseman Brett Harris got a wind-aided home run in the top of the third to tie the game at 2. So in some ways the wind gaveth to Arkansas, but also taketh.’

“Like I’ve said before, that’s kind of how baseball is,” Opitz said. “You know, credit to him (Harris). They got some balls that dropped, we got some balls dropped. We just got to keep fighting back and that’s what we did today.”

Dave Van Horn talked about the windy conditions on Thursday.

“Well obviously the wind made it, not only that it was windy, but it was cold,” Van Horn said. “It made it a lot colder than what it was. It affected one ball that Braydon Webb almost gave up on and he caught it, probably a foot foul. Their center fielder lost a ball and then he found it, but then the wind pushed it by him. He ran past it and it cost them a couple of runs.

“The wind in baseball is not a good thing really, most of the time. But you know it was the same for both teams.”

Caden Monke pitched two innings in relief for the Hogs and got the win. He only allowed one hit, walked one and fanned three. Opitz liked what he saw from Monke.

“I have a lot of confidence in him,” Opitz said. “I’ve seen it throughout the fall. He comes in there and when he throws strikes, he’s got that cutter working, he’s got an off-speed. It’s just really good. It’s really hard on the hitters, especially righties with that cutter getting in there. So, it was really good. It was really solid to have him in our pen and come out and do what he did today.”

Zebulon Vermillion pitched the final inning and got the save. Opitz talked about what Vermillion had working for him on Thursday.

“Yeah, he’s got a cutter in there,” Opitz said. “It kind of does a couple of things sometimes. So, it’s really good. It’s a really good pitch. He can command it really well and puts it where he wants. But, he’s a guy that throws 95 and can command that any day, you back that with that cutter, it’s really hard on the hitters.”

Arkansas (4-0) and Gonzaga (2-3) will be back on the diamond today at Baum-Walker Stadium with the first pitch at 3 p.m. Opitz and the Hogs have a lot of respect for Gonzaga.

“I mean, they are a veteran group, a lot of older guys,” Opitz said. “They didn’t give anything easy to us today. Their pitchers came out there throwing strikes, their hitters battled too. They came up there looking for their pitch, and they got it. They just kind of scratched and scratched, but we did a good job early in the season kind of fighting that back, playing our game and getting a win today.”

Connor Noland will be on the mound for the Hogs today against Gonzaga’s Mac Lardner.

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