FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ weekend didn’t start off well with South Alabama taking the first of a three-game series on Friday, but it all changed on Saturday and Sunday.
On Sunday, Heston Kjerstad hit a walk-off home run to give the Hogs a 5-3 win. They won 15-2 on Saturday following a 13-6 loss Friday. And that loss came on the heels of four previous losses including 8-7 on Illinois State Tuesday.
But, Dave Van Horn and Arkansas left the ballpark on Sunday feeling much better about themselves. It was by design that Van Horn wanted Kjerstad to get a chance in the ninth.
“The inning before in the eighth I had an opportunity to maybe steal (Robert) Moore and try to get him to second,” Van Horn said. “But I just wanted to make sure Heston might have a shot to get up in the ninth. I didn’t want to run us out of that. I figured we would have to get a couple of hits there in the eighth. In the ninth we got two quick outs and (Christian) Franklin has been our hottest hitter probably all weekend, and I was just hoping he could get on base to give Heston a chance.
“More than anything with Heston, I was just hoping he would hit one into the left-center field gap. That was really the only gap that was open. They were playing deep in left, center field straight up, maybe pull just a little bit, and obviously the right fielder was where he was. Two really good at-bats. Heston laid off a pitch or two to get an advantage count, then he fouled off a pitch to get to 2-2. He got him a pitch, I’m thinking it was a changeup, I’m not sure, and that’s the pitcher’s best pitch. Lefties were even hitting .200 off him this year so far. That was a good swing.”
When one factors in the windy conditions at Baum-Walker then the home run by Kjerstad is even more impressive.
“That was a big-time swing,” Van Horn said. “Without the wind that ball shoots way out of the park down the line. I would say that between yesterday and today there were six or seven of our swings that would have went out of the park, and I would say (Casey) Martin had three to four of them to left field that were caught on the track that would have been home runs without the wind just pushing that ball down. If he pulls them just another 20 feet – which we don’t want him pulling the ball right now – they go. It usually blows like this right before it’s going to rain. And that’s kind of what’s going to go on it looks like.”
Kjerstad talked about what he was looking for that last at bat.
“You know I was just trying to pass the baton to the next guy, the guy behind you,” Kjerstad said. “Whether that was me drawing a walk or getting a hit or whatever. I was just looking for a good pitch to hit and get a good swing on it like I normally do.”
The talented junior also talked about what it felt like to get a hit like the end the game.
“It was a low inside fastball,” Kjerstad said. “I’ve had a few walk-off hits, singles or whatever. But I’ve never hit a ball out to end the game. That stuff I’ve always I’ve thought about as a kid when I’d be in the backyard with my brothers or siblings. You know, bottom of the ninth, you’re the winning run and you hit a home run and it’s a walk-off. It’s kind of surreal to be in that situation and just a lot of fun to be out there with the guys and celebrate that.”
Kjerstad is hitting .424 with six home runs and 19 runs batted in. He was asked following the game if this is about where he thought he would be at this point in the season?
“I don’t ever set too many expectations,” Kjerstad said. “I just try and go in there and just play like I always have. It’s been a great start and it’s been a good year for me but I’ve just got to keep on improving fan getting better. There’s still things I need to work on going forward.”
Arkansas will be back at Baum-Walker Stadium on Tuesday and Wednesday to host Grand Canyon. Tuesday’s game starts at 6:30 p.m. and then 3 on Wednesday.