Tuesday, May 15, 2018
Junior Hunter Wilson, sophomore Jack Kenley and freshman Casey Opitz began this season on the bench for Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, but they helped Arkansas complete a three-game Southeastern Conference sweep over the weekend against Texas A&M at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
They were not only in the game mopping up as defensive replacements like Kenley often was last season at third base.
Wilson stands only 5-10 and normally plays second or third base. He started at first base on Friday and Sunday because Van Horn was dissatisfied in recent weeks with the play of his two alternating first basemen.
Kenley recently started at third base when freshman starter Casey Martin moved to second because of an injury to redshirt senior Carson Shaddy, who missed seven games with a bruised hand. Kenley became Arkansas' shortstop when preseason All-SEC junior Jax Biggers broke his finger in the first inning on Friday.
Opitz finished Sunday's game at catcher and may start this week in the final regular season SEC series for No. 6 Arkansas (36-15, 17-10). The Razorbacks will play Thursday through Saturday on the road at No. 16 Georgia (35-16, 16-11).
All-SEC junior Grant Koch limped off in the seventh inning on Sunday with assistance to the dugout. Koch apparently suffered an ankle injury during a foul ball play.
Wilson, Kenley and Opitz did not merely fill roles. They impacted the games, significantly.
Arkansas' 4-1 lead in the eighth inning on Sunday would have become most precarious. The Aggies (34-17, 12-15) scored two runs in the ninth and had a runner aboard.
Opitz hit a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning. He was followed by Wilson, who hit an RBI double to put Arkansas ahead, 6-1.
Kenley made the biggest play on Sunday to turn a double play in the third inning to keep Arkansas up, 1-0. Senior Luke Bonfield's three-home run propelled the Razorbacks to a 4-0 lead after three inning. Bonfield tipped his hat to the three reserves.
"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 double plays.
"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 double play."
"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 mentioned Wilson's value in the same breath with Kenley.
"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 said he was confident in starting Kenley if Biggers cannot go against Georgia. He said it's the same for Opitz and TCU transfer Zack Plunkett.
"They're good catchers," Van Horn said. "They can handle it."
Sports on 05/15/2018
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