FAYETTEVILLE — For starters, Sunday’s finish showed the depth these 36-15 Razorbacks can dig to keep winning baseball games.
Junior Hunter Wilson, sophomore Jack Kenley and freshman Casey Opitz began this season on coach Dave Van Horn’s Arkansas bench.
They ended Sunday’s 6-3 victory at Baum Stadium in the game completing a three-game SEC weekend sweep of the Texas A&M Aggies.
Infielders Wilson of Spiro, Oklahoma, and Kenley and catcher Opitz were not in the game mopping up or as defensive replacements like Kenley often was last season at third base.
Wilson, only 5-10 and normally a second baseman or third baseman, was Sunday’s starting first baseman and also Friday night’s first baseman because Van Horn was dissatisfied in recent weeks with his two regularly alternating first basemen.
Kenley, recently the starting third baseman when third baseman Casey Martin was moved to second because since returned senior second baseman Carson Shaddy missed seven games with a severely bruised hand, became Arkansas’ shortstop. Preseason All-SEC shortstop Jax Biggers broke his finger during the first inning of Friday night’s 9-3 victory over A&M.
Opitz finished Sunday’s game catching and may be Arkansas’ catcher in the final regular-season SEC Thursday through Saturday at Georgia.
Pending severity of Sunday’s ankle injury compelling All-SEC catcher Grant Koch’s limping seventh-inning exit limping with assistance to the dugout, backup Opitz becomes they didn’t merely fill roles. They impacted the game. Significantly.
Arkansas’ 4-1 lead into the eighth would have become most precarious.
The Aggies scoring two in the ninth and leaving a runner aboard, would have only trailed 4-3 had not Optiz, in the eighth, launched a sacrifice fly followed by Wilson’s RBI double.
Kenley made Sunday’s single biggest play.
He dove to stop Michael Helman’s would-be A&M RBI single up the middle and then, flipped to second baseman Shaddy completing a doubleplay to keep Arkansas up 1-0 in the A&M third before Luke Bonfield’s three-run home run propelled Arkansas up 4-0 after three.
Senior star of Sunday’s game Bonfield tipped his Hog hat to the three reserves coming to the front.
“I mean, you look at it, Opitz gets a huge hit (the sac fly) for us,” Bonfield said. “Hunter Wilson had a huge hit for us. Jack, I mean, he’s been doing it all weekend. He put some really good swings on the ball.”
And, his defense involved in two of Arkansas’ three doubleplays, especially that one in the third inning …
“The ball left the bat, and I thought it was going into center field,” Van Horn said. “He timed his dive perfectly. Obviously, he was fully extended, and he did a good job of not trying to flip the ball out of his glove immediately. He kind of got to his knees where he had control of the ball a little bit better and flipped a perfect one to Shaddy. And then, Shaddy did a really nice job of catching it and turning and putting something on it. It was a super doubleplay.”
Kenley was asked to describe it.
“Just got a good jump on it and saw that I had a chance to stop it,” Kenley said. “And I knew as soon as I could stop it, Shaddy was right there talking to me. He was in my ear the whole time that as soon as I got a glove on it, I could get it right to him and from there it was easy, just trust in Shaddy.”
Van Horn was asked most postgame about Kenley because of the great doubleplay but he mentioned Wilson’s value in the same breath.
“To have a guy like Kenley, and even I guess you could take it as far as Hunter Wilson, they're both good team guys, but they're really good players, too,” Van Horn said. “They're both really good defenders and they swing the bat left-handed. Kenley's a guy that on a lot of teams he would have starter this year. And probably the same for Wilson.
“They bring a lot to the table. They both can run, they can bunt, they can handle the bat a little bit, and obviously they hit from the left side. It's real valuable to have that, especially at this level.”
Van Horn obviously has confidence starting Kenley at short if Biggers isn’t mended against Georgia and the coach says it’s the same for Opitz and transferred from TCU catcher Zack Plunkett if Koch can’t go at Athens.
“They’re good catchers,” Van Horn said. “They can handle it.”