FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The No. 12 Arkansas Baseball team completed its opening weekend sweep of Eastern Illinois Sunday afternoon at Baum-Walker Stadium after sophomore Heston Kjerstad roped a walk-off single to right-center field in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Panthers, 3-2.
It was Kjerstad’s third walk-off of his career and was his only hit of the day. Arkansas hitters struggled to put any runners on base all day as its six hits were scattered throughout the game. No player recorded more than one hit or one RBI, but the pitching was strong throughout to keep the need for runs low.
Junior Jacob Kostyshock, in his first career start, threw five scoreless innings, striking out three on 74 pitches, with only three hits allowed. Junior closer Matt Cronin, who entered the game in a save situation in the eighth, corralled the win after 1.2 innings pitched and one hit allowed in his first appearance of 2019.
The three-game sweep was Arkansas’ sixth-straight to open a season dating back to 2014.
Ezell Owns Eastern Illinois
Following his four-hit day in the doubleheader on Saturday, graduate transfer Trevor Ezell added another hit to his already growing total against the Panthers in his career. Dating back to his four years at Southeast Missouri State, which played in the same conference (Ohio Valley Conference) as EIU, Ezell is 21-for-44 (.477) against the Panthers in 12 games. He singled to right in the first inning on Sunday.
Performing When Your Name Is Called
Freshman Curtis Washington, Jr. was making only his second appearance of the weekend Sunday when he was called to bat for designated hitter Jordan McFarland in the seventh inning. Still looking for his first career hit, Washington was called to try and bunt over Jack Kenley, who walked earlier in the inning. Washington did one better and drew a walk to put two runners on with no one out, which eventually led to Arkansas’ second run.
Washington, a West Memphis, Arkansas native finally got his first Razorback hit when he singled to lead off the ninth and scored the winning run on Kjerstad’s walk-off single.
Nearly Immaculate Inning
Freshman Patrick Wicklander nearly achieved a feat that some pitchers only dream of when he came out of the bullpen in the sixth inning to relieve Kostyshock. Wicklander struck out the side of EIU hitters Jimmy Govern, Hunter Morris and Ryan Knernschield and did it on 10 pitches, just one shy of the near immaculate nine pitch, three strikeout inning. Wicklander finished his first career outing with 2.1 innings, one run allowed and four strikeouts on 31 pitches.
Early Season Streaking
Trevor Ezell, Heston Kjerstad, Casey Martin and Jack Kenley are the only Razorbacks to record at least one hit in each game this season, earning them a three-game hitting streak going into the road series at USC. Combined the top three of Arkansas’ lineup plus Kenley are hitting .391 with eight extra-base hits, three home runs and 12 RBIs. They’re also slugging at a .717 clip as a group. Ezell leads all Hog hitters with an even .500 average (5-for-10) with four runs scored, two doubles, one home run and five RBIs.
“First thing you always tell the team no matter what, it’s just find a way to win. So that was good to see and kind of what I expected, to be honest with you. I felt it was good for us to play a game like that. If we had another 15-2 game I don’t know how it would have affected us going to USC this weekend. To play a tight game, kind of let the lead slip away and then to come back and win it and kind of feel what we felt in the dugout, a little bit of pressure. I thought that was good for our team.” – Head coach Dave Van Horn on the sweep over Eastern Illinois
“We’ve watched him play a lot. He just competes and he’s not scared. He took a first-pitch fast ball and the guy spins a breaking ball and it ends up over the plate. He throws another breaking ball and Curtis singles to center and we were in business. I’m proud of him for handling the situation and competing.” – Head coach Dave Van Horn on Curtis Washington, Jr.’s performance off the bench
“His velocity was as good as I’ve seen it. He threw a couple of nice breaking balls, a couple of good change-ups. I liked the way he spotted his fastball away. He’d get them leaning out over the plate and he could bust those right-handers in. He threw the ball extremely well.” – Head coach Dave Van Horn on Patrick Wicklander
“I feel like I’m ready at all times. Coach (Van Horn) can call my name at any time, so I have to be ready at all times. I was ready when the moment came and got the job done. They put me in the game to sacrifice bunt and I ended up walking and that gave me confidence. Then, the big hit I had in the ninth inning, got me more confidence.” – Curtis Washington, Jr. on being called to pinch hit in the 7th and getting the base hit in the 9th.
“It’s just a good experience for the younger guys and us older guys to play in a game where every out matters. he little things add up and make the difference at the end of the game. A lot of our games this year are going to be one-run games and those are the ones that normally matter the most and come down to the wire.” – Heston Kjerstad on playing a close game
“I had everything working today in the bullpen and I felt good coming out. I can’t say I was surprised, but it wasn’t the debut that I was like, ‘Okay I want to come out and do this.’ I just want to get three outs as fast as possible and get us back in the dugout.” – Patrick Wicklander on his first career outing
Arkansas heads west for week two as it will face Pac-12 foe USC in Los Angeles, California for a three-game set starting on Thursday, Feb. 21 at 9 p.m. CT. Games two and three will be on Friday and Saturday with game time set for 9 p.m. both days. All games will be streamed on USC’s athletic website.
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