NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe ON THE HILL: Blaine Knight, pictured loosening up last fall, is Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn's choice as starting pitcher in the Razorbacks' season opener today against Miami, Ohio. Single games are scheduled at 3 p.m. today, noon Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - For Blaine Knight, today's Razorbacks baseball season-opener marks an historic start for himself and, he hopes, an official end from the 2016 season's bad history extending into 2017.
Dave Van Horn's Razorbacks open the season at Baum Stadium hosting the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks in a 3-game series at 3 p.m. today, noon Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
Starting the Razorbacks' season-opener is lifelong dream of the sophomore right-hander from Bryant and banishing the nightmare of the 13-game losing streak ending 2016 likely lurks in the back of all Razorbacks' minds.
"It's awesome to start the first game of the season, really," Knight said. "Being an in-state guy, being a Razorback fan my whole life and now being a Razorback, being able to start opening day is just unreal. I'm excited and I'm ready to get going."
A College World Series team just two years ago, Van Horn's Razorbacks open this season vowing they've cleaned their 2016 slates though nothing cleanses like victory.
"It's going to be huge to get a win, especially this weekend," Knight said. "We all still have a bad taste in our mouth from last year and it will feel good to get a good taste in our mouth and get a win; it will be really nice."
Knight said last season's 26-29 overall/7-23 SEC aberration, the first losing season and first season not ending at NCAA regionals or the College World Series in Van Horn's 14 years coaching the Razorbacks, will not be repeated.
"You're going to see a different team this year than last year," Knight said. "Last year, we couldn't ever get anything going our way and we couldn't make anything happen. This year we've got the players and the talent to make things happen. You'll see a completely different team than you saw last year."
Van Horn will start Knight today and junior right-hander Trevor Stephan Saturday on 75- to 80-pitch counts.
Isaiah Campbell (sore arm) is a tentative Sunday starter. If Campbell's arm is at all sore, Van Horn said he'll likely decide on who is fresh with relievers a necessity thanks to the early-season pitch counts.
"I don't want to leave anybody out because I made a decision to throw somebody on Sunday that we could have used on Saturday," Van Horn said.
Senior right-hander Dominic Taccolini, the former staff ace set back by injuries but now the potential closer, could pitch in any game this weekend.
"He could close games," Van Horn said. "We may use him in the middle. If we didn't need him he could even be a guy we start on Sunday. We are still getting his pitch count built up a little bit. He missed a little bit of time a couple of weeks back with a sore back."
With junior college transfer first baseman-third baseman Jared Gates out a projected five weeks after surgery Wednesday to repair a broken hand, Van Horn said he will start junior transfer native Hunter Wilson at third base and junior 2-year letterman Chad Spanberger at first.
Hard-hitting junior 2-year letterman Carson Shaddy opens at second base after catching and playing third and the outfield.
Junior college transfer Jax Biggers debuts at short sophomore and Grant Koch, a team captain along with Shaddy and Taccolini, continues the catching job he earned late last season.
Van Horn starts junior 2-year letterman Luke Bonfield in left field and freshman Dominic Fletcher, called by both Van Horn and assistant coach Tony Vitello as perhaps the program's best defensive center fielder, no small praise given current Boston Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi was the Razorbacks' Golden Spikes Award-winning center fielder in 2015.
Senior Jake Arledge opens in right with switch-hitting senior outfielder Eric Cole opening as the DH.
Though only 27-29 last season, Coach Danny Hayden's RedHawks return so much experience, including right-hander Cole Gnetz starting today and lefty Zach Spears starting Saturday plus a deep bullpen, that they are "projected to win their league," Van Horn said.
"I think they'll be as good as some of the teams that we opened up against," Van Horn said. "Like last year Central Michigan was highly touted and projected to win their league. They didn't end up having the year they thought they were going to have and neither did we. So you never know. But what they have is experience on the mound."Sports on 02/17/2017