Andy Hodges

When Noland’s on, bats get hot this Razorback team could be really good

Connor Noland had a pretty good opening day, Heston Kjerstad had a pair of homers, but Christian Franklin blasted the longest homer and Arkansas started the 2020 season with a 5-1 win.

Connor Noland had a pretty good opening day, Heston Kjerstad had a pair of homers, but Christian Franklin blasted the longest homer and Arkansas started the 2020 season with a 5-1 win over Eastern Illinois on Friday afternoon.

It may have been more impressive than the final score that over 9,100 sat in 41-degree weather

Just about everybody played really well for an opener. Casey Opitz behind the plate threw out a couple of runners and basically managed the pitchers, especially Noland, masterfully

“We didn’t call pitches today,” Dave Van Horn said later. “We didn’t need to.”

Noland finished giving up one unearned run, striking out 11 and walking one.

“With Connor pitching the way he did, we never felt that we were in trouble,” Van Horn said. “It was a really good opener.”

Arkansas scored first with Braydon Webb walking to start the game, then scoring on an RBI single by Kjerstad, who was 3-for-4 with a pair of homers and three RBU.

“I’ve had a little bit different approach,” Kjerstad said. “A little bit more tuned in and everything and just keep it rolling. It’s always good to be in the lineup we have. It’s really easy to hit in it because you’re not pitching around guys because there’s a lot of good hitters in it.”

It was that kind of day, but Eastern Illinois pitcher Will Klein was throwing in the mid-90’s and after the lead-off batter for the Razorbacks scored, he shut them down until the fifth inning.

“I’m sure the lingo has it that he probably made a little money today,” Van Horn said. “He went through a pretty good lineup a few times. We finally got him. But, he showed that he could land his breaking ball a little bit and first time through the lineup it was mostly fastball.”

But the eye-popping part was Noland’s dominance in the opening game.

“I had all three pitches, fastball, curveball and slider,” Noland said later. “I didn’t throw too many change-ups, but they have a right-handed heavy lineup, so that’s too be expected. But I felt like I could move the ball inside-outside and just control the at-bats when I needed to.”

Van Horn was obviously pleased later, although you got the feeling there may have been some normal nerves before the game.

“You never what you are going to get,” he said. “You never know. You get guys that are a little nervous, new guys in the dugout that are just getting a feel. As a coach, you just kind of watch to see how they react. We have some veterans that kind of kept it calm.”

Oh, and started a season that has high expectations from the fans with a win over a team with a good starting pitcher.

“It was a really good opener,” Van Horn said.

The Hogs will face Eastern Illinois again Saturday in a game scheduled for a 2 p.m. first pitch.

You can hear the game on ESPN Arkansas 95.3 in the River Valley, 96.3 in Hot Springs and 104.3 in Harrison-Mountain Home or streamed online at HitThatLine.com. CLICK HERE to listen.

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