FAYETTEVILLE — After weighing when to start his co-aces in Friday and Saturday’s start of the 4-team double elimination Fayetteville Regional his Razorbacks host at Baum Stadium, Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said he’s sticking with his recent formula.
Junior right-hander Trevor Stephan, 5-3, 3.12 ERA, will start Arkansas’ 7 p.m. Friday game against the Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles.
Bryant’s Blaine Knight, the sophomore right-hander 8-4 with a 3.08 ERA will start Saturday whether in the 2 p.m. loser’s bracket game or the 7 p.m. winner’s bracket game after second-seeded Missouri State and third-seeded Oklahoma State open the tournament at 2 p.m.Friday.
“Yeah, we’re going to go with Stephan Game One,” Van Horn said Tuesday before the Razorbacks practiced upon their return from Hoover, Ala. and their runner-up finish at the SEC Tournament. “We’re not going to change anything up. We’re going to keep everybody at proper rest. We feel like both pitchers are No. 1’s and we’re not going to switch.”
If the Razorbacks are still in it Sunday, sophomore lefty Kacey Murphy seems a good bet coming off shutting out nationally No. 3 seeded Florida in Hoover but Van Horn said he will “wait and see “on that matchup and if either Murphy or senior right-hander Dominic Taccolini, the other likely starter, has been used in relief.
Just getting to Game Three takes precedence over saving a certain starter for Game Three.
Van Horn said with freshman lefty Matt Cronin pitching so well in two relief outings at Hoover, there is more flexibility to piece-meal a start beyond the Stephan and Knight outings.
Cronin pitched three innings when he, starter Taccolini and finisher Josh Alberius combined for a no-hitter during the 12-0 second-round SEC Tournament victory over Auburn.
Cronin struck out LSU All-SEC cleanup hitter Greg Deichmann in a left-on-left matchup in Sunday’s SEC Tournament championship game that LSU won 4-2.
Deichman was the lone batter that Cronin faced of which some Razorbacks fans took note, Van Horn said.
“ A lot of people were grumbling when I took Cronin out after he struck out the four-hole hitter for LSU with the bases loaded,” Van Horn said. “But the issue was he’d just thrown 70 pitches two days before. I didn’t want to hurt him and I want to have him available for this weekend. I know he was pretty sore the day after. We feel like he can really help us. Then some others. I think (freshman right-hander Kevin) Kopps did a great job and (sophomore right-hander Jake) Reindl did a really nice job. Especially his second outing. All those guys (beyond Stephan and Knight) could start or we could just go in and start somebody and then kind of figure it out from there.”
Considering the Razorbacks have been on the road since before their final SEC series May 18-20 at Texas A&M followed by May 20 through into May 28 in Hoover, the Razorbacks felt like they had gone to heaven coming home to Fayetteville and knowing they’ll stay home hosting a regional.
“The guys were pretty giddy when we get off the bus when we walked in the locker room,” Van Horn said. “A lot of them were like “I get to sleep in my own bed and It’s good to be here.” Some of them even had conversations with their locker, so it was kind of comical. But it is good to be back in Fayetteville.”
Though good to be home and seeded No. 1 in their regional, the Razorbacks were not treated to easy pickings for Friday’s opener.
Fourth-seeded Oral Roberts, the Tulsa-based champion of the Summit League, is 42-14 overall and nonconference beaten Oklahoma State and Missouri State plus Wichita State and Oklahoma among others and swept three from Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
“Our 4-seed is not a 4-seed,” Van Horn said. “ Our 4-seed is a 1 or a 2. They’re the team that nobody wants to see pop up as a 4. There’s no No. 1 anywhere that wants to see Oral Roberts and have to face them in Game 1. Obviously they know how to win. You can say ‘Oh they play in a league, whatever.’ But just look at their nonconference schedule. They’ve beaten most of the people in the Midwest that are pretty good. “