Hogs win SEC opener behind Goodheart, Campbell
FAYETTEVILLE — All it took for Arkansas to finally get some production from its designated hitter spot was a trip to the eye doctor.
Playing with a stronger prescription of contacts in Friday night’s SEC opener, Matt Goodheart hit two doubles and had a hand in both runs in the Razorbacks’ 2-0 win over Missouri.
“We played a night game on Tuesday and he said he couldn’t see, he wasn’t seeing very good at night,” head coach Dave Van Horn said. “He was at the eye doctor yesterday. They increased the power of his contact lenses and got him some new lenses.”
Van Horn said he jokingly asked the junior college transfer during batting practice if he could see the ball better, but his performance in the game spoke louder than the “Yes sir” he responded with.
Goodheart’s bases-loaded walk with two outs in the first inning gave Arkansas its first run and then he legged out a leadoff double in the fourth, putting him in position to score on a Jacob Nesbit sacrifice fly two batters later.
He also ripped a double down the right field line in the sixth and flew out to deep center in the eighth, allowing Dominic Fletcher to tag up to third.
“The way he swung the bat tonight is the way we saw him swing the bat in the fall,” Van Horn said. “Hopefully he’s gaining some confidence. He should - every at bat was a good at bat, whether he got on or not.”
It was an encouraging sign for the Razorbacks because they have been getting very little production out of their three-man rotation of Goodheart, Jordan McFarland and Trey Harris. As designated hitters, they were just 12 for 58 (.207) coming into the series.
Goodheart, a native of Magnolia, Ark., said Thursday’s trip to the eye doctor was his first since playing at San Jacinto C.C. last season. He downplayed the impact of the new contacts, saying they helped him see the ball “a little better.”
“Honest (I was) just going up, trying to help the team,” Goodheart said. “Every at bat is an opportunity to help the team and (I was) just looking to take advantage.”
Arkansas can clinch the series Saturday, with first pitch scheduled for 2 p.m. Freshman right-hander Connor Noland (0-0, 4.32 ERA) will face Missouri’s ace, junior left-hander TJ Sikkema (2-0, 0.46 ERA).
The game will be streamed on SEC Network-plus, meaning it can be watched online on ESPN3.com or on the WatchESPN app.
Friday Night Ace
If there were any lingering doubts about Isaiah Campbell’s ability to be a Friday night starter in the SEC, he erased them against Missouri.
Facing a lineup that featured seven players hitting at least .333, the right-hander struck out 11 batters and allowed only two hits and a walk in seven shutout innings.
“I thought he was really good in the middle of the game, the fourth, fifth, sixth - those were his best innings,” Van Horn said. “It seemed like he had all (of his pitches) rolling tonight.”
Campbell got off to a shaky start by walking the leadoff man in the first inning, but he struck out the next two batters - the second of which was a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play by Casey Opitz.
After a leadoff single Mark Vierling - who moved to second on a wild pitch - in the third inning, only one of the next 15 Tigers reached base and it was via a throwing error.
That coincided with when he said he found his cutter, giving him a four-pitch arsenal. Campbell located his fastball that topped out at 95 mph and complemented it with his curveball and splitter, which he said was the best it’s been all year.
“I had to battle a little bit of command issues in those first three innings,” Campbell said. “I got behind a lot of batters, but I just competed and once that fourth inning hit, those last four innings, that’s when everything clicked for me.”
He gave up a two-out single to Chad McDaniel in the seventh, but got Tony Ortiz to ground out to first on his 100th pitch of the night to end the inning.
It was his third straight game with double-digit strikeouts, a span in which he’s allowed only two earned runs on 12 hits and two walks while striking out 34 in 20 innings. That has lowered his ERA to 2.37 and improved his record to 4-0.
Including Blaine Knight’s perfect 14-0 record in 2018, Arkansas’ Friday night starters have now won 19 consecutive decisions.
“We saw it last year with Blaine Knight and how far it got us,” closer Matt Cronin said. “If Isaiah can do that again, it’s going to be huge.”
Bullpen Finishes the Shutout
Although Campbell said he felt like he could go back out for the eighth inning, he acknowledged there was “no point” with the bullpen Arkansas has.
Junior right-hander Jacob Kostyshock was first up and he came out of the pen throwing heat. He first two pitches were clocked at 97 miles per hour on the scoreboard radar gun and he threw several more at 96 and 97 mph in his scoreless inning.
Van Horn has been vocal in the past that the scoreboard reading isn’t always accurate, but he thought it was pretty close for Kostyshock on Friday.
“Supposedly they had it re-calibrated,” Van Horn said. “We’ll check out the TrackMan data, but yeah, it looked like it from the side.”
With a couple of left-handed hitters due up to start the ninth, Van Horn called on Cronin to close it out. Despite a two-out walk to Chris Cornelius, he ended up striking out the side to finish off Arkansas’ third shutout in four games.
Over that stretch, the Razorbacks have allowed only one earned run on 10 hits - all singles - and 10 walks. They have lowered their team ERA to 2.77 and team WHIP to 1.03.
“I think a lot of the younger guys are seeing some of the older guys and how they do it and really just picking up off that,” Cronin said. “It’s just a big confidence thing and believing in your stuff.”
~With nice weather, there was a pretty good crowd for the Razorbacks’ SEC opener Friday night. The paid attendance was 8,150 and the “tickets scanned” number was 4,158, but it felt like there were a lot more than that in the stands.
~Those who made it out to Baum-Walker Stadium saw Arkansas post its first SEC-opening shutout since beating Georgia 1-0 on March 21, 1992, which was also its first SEC game after leaving the Southwest Conference.
~Arkansas debuted a pair of “Razorback Boxes” in the Hog Pen area beyond left field Friday. They are a pair of repurposed shipping containers that have been outfitted with couches, TVs, barstools, a grill and a private balcony.
~Heston Kjerstad led off the third inning by reaching on a hit by pitch. It is the third straight game he has been beaned and the fifth time in six games. Last season, Kjerstad set the UA freshman record with 18 hit by pitches.
~With a single in the seventh inning, Jacob Nesbit extended his hitting streak to seven games. He has also reached base in 14 consecutive games.
~About 20-25 MLB scouts were in attendance to see Campbell square off against Missouri center fielder Kameron Misner, a preseason All-American who came into the game hitting .393 with five home runs.