FAYETTEVILLE — When both pitch well and are well-rested, it hasn’t mattered which order that the Arkansas Razorbacks started Blaine Knight and Trevor Stephan for Games One and Two of a SEC series.
It certainly shouldn’t matter now for this four-team double-elimination Fayetteville Regional that Arkansas hosts at Baum Stadium, Knight asserts.
Junior right-hander Stephan, 8-4, 3.12 ERA opens the tournament for top-seed Arkansas at 7 p.m. Friday pitching against the fourth-seeded Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles.
Saturday, either in the 7 p.m. winners bracket game or 2 p.m. losers bracket against either Missouri State or Oklahoma State
"I don’t care as long as I pitch and help us win," Knight said of recently following rather pitching ahead of Stephan in the rotation including this regional. "That’s all I care about. They bumped me back (at Texas A&M and actually to the third game at the SEC Tournament) to rest and everything else because I was getting a little tired. But it is what it is."
And what it is, doesn’t matter to either’s ego, Knight said.
"I don’t feel like there is any one that you would call ‘Ace," Knight said.
Not unless you called them both, "Ace" it seems.
"Me and Trevor are pretty even keel across the board," Knight said. "Yeah, we compete with each other but I am happy for him when he’s pitching and he’s happy for me that I am pitching. As long as we are both successful that’s all we care about."
And they do feel successful and feel their 42-17 team is, too coming off a runner-up SEC Tournament finish after an 18-11 regular SEC season to be one of 16 teams hosting regionals that starts the process of winnowing 16 teams to best of three Super Regionals and ultimately the Elite Eight playing for the national championship at the College World Series in Omaha.
"It’s the right time," Knight said of he and Stephan hitting mutual stride. "I ran into a couple of rough weekends and I had to work my way out of it and keep grinding through it. I am on the upper end of it now. I’m happy. I know Trevor struggled for a little bit earlier on and now he’s on a roll, too. So it’s really good to have us back shooting straight again."
The emergence of starter/relievers Murphy and Taccolini and the recent bullpen brigade bounty reaped by right-handers Jake Reindl. Kevin Kopps and Josh Alberius and left-hander Matt Cronin ease their burdens, Knight said of himself and Stephan.
"Well it makes us breathe a little easier, that’s for sure," Knight said. "Doesn’t put as much stress for us to have to do more than we’re capable in the first couple of games that we pitch. And if those guys don’t start they come out of the pen or whatever they do, we have full confidence they are going to come in and pick us up once we leave. I hope they keep doing what they’re doing. They’ve made a really big jump."
The Hogs’ Chad Spanberger hss fill the stat sheet like hi five home runs and three doubles at the SEC Tournament of which he was named MVP.
How would Knight pitch to Spanberger?
" I wouldn’t," Knight said laughing. " We had a one-on-one thing in the fall where you’d go one pitcher vs. one hitter. No infield or nothing. I didn’t want to throw it to him then and he wasn’t as hot as he is right now. I threw it to him and hit one out on me. So I don’t know how you pitch to him to be honest with you. He’s a threat in the box that’s for sure."
However Knight knows he’ll be facing major threats Saturday whether it’s Missouri State third baseman Jake Burger, .341, 22 home runs, 67 RBI, or Oklahoma State leading hitter Garrett McClain, .334.
"We play either Oklahoma State or Missouri State on Saturday and I have seen both of them play this year," Knight said, Arkansas lost to Oklahoma State at the Frisco Classic in Frisco, Texas and beat Missouri State in Springfield. "I know they are good teams and I know Oral Roberts, they are always a good team. Look at their record (42-14) and from however long they’ve been going into postseason and stuff. But I know Trevor will do well against those guys. We are really confident going into against these teams."
Growing up an Arkie in Bryant and wanting to be a Razorback all his life, he says this is special for the Hogs to host, especially since last year’s 26-29 overall/ 7-23 in the SEC Razorbacks didn’t even qualify for the SEC Tournament.
" We are all pumped," Knight said. "It beats the heck out of last year when we weren’t playing anymore as of last week. So to be able to keep playing and do it in front of our home crowd is going to be a fun experience. I’m overall looking forward to it."