FAYETTEVILLE — Summarizing his Arkansas Razorbacks sweeping their first SEC season 3-game series against the nationally No. 4 Kentucky Wildcats you would have presumed Dave Van Horn starting with hitting.
He didn’t. Not even as with Friday night’s 9-4 victory and Saturday’s 14-2 and 16-9 doubleheader long day’s journey into night at Baum Stadium Arkansas scored the most runs, 39, for any SEC series that Van Horn coached since first piloting the Hogs in 2003 while walloping 13 home runs among 49 hits.
“You start with Isaiah Campbell,” Van Horn said late Saturday night before devoting Page Two to Kacey Murphy.
Third-year sophomore right-hander Campbell threw a 3-hitter through eight complete innings and handed off a 14-1 lead for reliever Zebulon Vermillion to mop the ninth of Saturday’s first game.
Junior left-hander Murphy reportedly had been throwing up before throwing out Wildcats from the second through the seventh innings of winning relief in Saturday’s second game.
Added to Friday night ace Blaine Knight of Bryant, 3-0, 1.30 earned run average and apparently shrugging off a line drive bruising his shin “black and blue,” Van Horn said, Arkansas starts a formidable rotation their next SEC series Friday through Sunday in Gainesville, Fla. against the reigning national champion Florida Gators after games Tuesday and Wednesday against Charlotte in Charlotte, N.C.
Campbell, a promising freshman in 2016 along with Knight and Murphy despite the dreadful 26-29, 7-23 in the SEC team they played for that consecutively lost their last 13 games,, was a 2017 medical hardship (elbow) pitching just one brief outing for last season’s 45-19, 18-11 in the SEC Hogs.
Not since measuring up to a great 2018 season second start against San Diego State, Campbell started Saturday against Kentucky on not so secret probation. Though sabotaged by poor defense with four of his five runs unearned, the 6-5, 235 fireballer pitched timidly in Van Horn’s and pitching coach Wes Johnson’s view, taking the 10-4 loss in a March 9 start against Kent State.
“Last week it looked like he was just trying not to get hit,” Van Horn said. “He was nibbling. He wasn’t throwing real hard. He got behind early in the game and threw an 88-mile an hour fast ball. Well, he doesn’t throw 88 miles an hour. He throws 92 plus. And that 88 mile an hour fast ball went all the way out to the wall and drove in two runs. Coach Johnson wasn’t happy and felt like he wasn’t going out there and taking it to them.”
So Van Horn, always previously starting Knight and Campbell every 3-game series weekend, asserted publicly he didn’t know beyond Knight Friday night who would start against Kentucky, the SEC’s best hitting team until outslugged by the Hogs.
“We challenged him (Campbell) all week,” Van Horn said Saturday. “We told him we didn’t know if we were going to start him. He worked hard all week and he came out and gave us just a great outing against a really good offensive team. He held them down and gave us a chance to save our bullpen as best we could for the second game. He’s the one who got us off to a good start when you really look at it. We swung the bats well, but he slowed them down. He gave us everything we needed knowing we had two games in one day.”
Arkansas’ hitters appreciated their second ace pitching like one.
“That’s the Isaiah Campbell we know,” Arkansas senior designated hitter Luke Bonfield said. “That kind of set the pace for the whole day.”
Murphy had pitched six victorious inning in a Tuesday start over Texas. He had one day’s less rest with Arkansas and Kentucky deferring to a forecast of a rainy Sunday and playing two on Saturday.
Actually a queasy stomach not a tired arm most vexed Murphy before Van Horn summoned him during the second inning to replace freshman starter Kole Ramage.
Kentucky scored four second-inning runs after Arkansas’ 7-run salvo in the first.
“Murphy was really sick today,” Van Horn said. “I didn’t think he was going to pitch. He would probably have started the second game if he would have acted like he could do it. A couple of innings into the game he said, ‘I’m OK.’ And we said, ‘All right, you are the one we wanted to pitch and he did enough.”
Bonfield more graphically described Murphy’s circumstances.
“Murphy was throwing up before or during the game and he really gutted it out for us,” Bonfield said. “That’s not a fun (Kentucky) lineup to face over there. That’s one of the best lineups in the country. Our pitching staff did a great job to hold them to minimal runs and keep us in the game.”