FAYETTEVILLE — The backup catcher, backup shortstop and the middle infielder playing first base that completed Sunday’s finale of Arkansas’ three-game SEC sweep at Baum Stadium of Texas A&M apparently will start the Razorbacks’ final three-game SEC regular-season series Thursday through Saturday at Georgia.
Coach Dave Van Horn’s nationally No. 6 Razorbacks, 36-15 overall and at 17-10 best in the SEC West leading West runner-up Ole Miss, 16-11 by a game, and coach Scott Stricklin’s 16th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs, 35-16 and 16-11 for second in the SEC East behind already East SEC champion Florida, meet at 6 p.m. (all times CDT) Thursday, 6 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday at the Bulldogs’ Foley Field in Athens, Georgia.
Saturday’s game is televised by the SEC Network with the first two on internet video on WatchESPN or SEC Network+.
Arkansas concluded Sunday’s 6-3 victory with freshman Casey Opitz catching and hitting an eighth-inning sacrifice fly after junior All-SEC catcher Grant Koch limped out of the game spraining his ankle during the seventh inning.
Sophomore reserve Jack Kenley played shortstop since All-SEC junior Jax Biggers broke his finger during the first inning of Friday’s opener of the series sweep over A&M.
They will start Thursday night against Georgia, Van Horn said before Tuesday’s practice at Baum Stadium and so will Hunter Wilson, the heretofore junior reserve infielder from Spiro, Oklahoma thrust into the starting lineup at first base both Friday and Sunday against A&M.
Van Horn was asked first about Koch, whom Van Horn had last seen Monday before the coach addressed media Tuesday morning.
“He said he felt better than he thought he would,” Van Horn said. “He walked around yesterday (Monday) without any crutch or anything, so I think he's day-to-day. Is he going to start on Thursday? I would say as of now probably not. Maybe not Friday. Hopefully we'll get him back by the end of the series or the tournament (next week’s SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama) it's just a matter of him healing up.”
Optiz stepped up Sunday.
“I feel real good about Opitz,” Van Horn said. “This past summer he played with the Midland Redskins, an advanced team and he was pretty much their every day guy. He came in and caught well in the fall. I think in a different situation he'd have a lot more playing time. But with Grant coming back his junior year, we haven’t played him (Optiz) a lot. But when Opitz played, he played well. He’s a really good catch and throw guy and he can block as well as anybody. Hopefully he’ll do the same type of job that Kenley did last weekend. Just step in and play.”
Van Horn said the pitchers feel comfortable throwing to Opitz.
Kacey Murphy, the Friday night starting pitcher this week with Blaine Knight leading off the rotation Thursday and Isaiah Campbell starting Saturday, confirmed the pitchers believe both in Optiz and Zack Plunkett, the reserve catcher transferred from TCU.
“I’m perfectly fine with either of them back there,” Murphy said. “We trust all of them. They all know the system really well. They all know the pitchers really well, so whoever’s back there will be just fine.”
Kenley already has filled in admirably as the starting third baseman when Casey Martin moved from third to second during second baseman Carson Shaddy’s injury enforced absence. He picked it up so well at short Friday that Van Horn appears to have him almost indelibly inked in the starting lineup so Biggers can mend.
“Right now we're going with Kenley,” Van Horn said. “Biggers is still extremely sore. He didn't hit yesterday (Monday) I don't know if he's going to practice too much today. The trainers' plan, from what I knew on Sunday was let's just let him try to heal a little bit until we get down to Georgia and practice tomorrow. As of right now I see Kenley starting and I see Opitz starting.”
Despite a throwing error Sunday, Wilson remains Van Horn’s top first base choice since the coach deemed regularly alternating first baseman Jared Gates and Jordan McFarland to be struggling.
Wilson did make a nice scoop of a too hard throw into the dirt Friday and delivered an RBI double in Sunday’s eighth inning.
“I see Hunter Wilson starting, yeah,” Van Horn said. “He did a good job. He made a little bit of a wild throw, but technique was good, just a wild throw. Other than that, I thought he played really good defense. He brought energy. He was a tough out. I see him starting game one.”