The Knight time is the right time for the Arkansas baseball team.
Starting pitcher Blaine Knight set a career high in strikeouts to help silence Mississippi State, 3-1, in both teams’ SEC openers on Friday night in Baum Stadium.
The win was Arkansas’ first in-conference since April 30 of last year. The Diamond Hogs (15-4, 1-0) had lost 12 straight SEC games dating back to last season. Mississippi State (12-7, 0-1) swept the Razorbacks to end 2016.
This isn’t 2016 anymore.
Knight, under the tutelage of pitching coach Wes Johnson, struck out 11 Bulldogs batters in his seven innings Friday. He gave up just three hits and walked exactly zero. The only bad moment he had came in the first inning when Ryan Gridley took him over the leftfield wall to open the scoring. It was one of two hits Mississippi State had in the first. The Bulldogs had two more the rest of the way.
Mississippi State ace Konnor Pilkington was nearly as good, but nearly wasn’t enough. Arkansas hitters answered immediately after Gridley went yard. Luke Bonfield hit a two-run home run of his own in the bottom half of the first. Grant Koch added a solo shot, his sixth, in the sixth.
Pilkington made it through eight innings, giving up just four hits and striking out 13 Razorbacks batters, including the side in the eighth. But both home runs let Arkansas lead through seven, same time Knight exited.
Bonfield was the only Arkansas hitter to reach base more than once. He went 2 for 4 with his two-run home run. Brent Rooker was Mississippi State’s next best hitter, getting a double in his 1 for 4 night.
Grading the Hogs
Arkansas leads the SEC in home runs with 27. Only four total hits is disappointing for the Diamond Hogs, but bound to happen on occasional Fridays in college baseball’s best conference.
Mississippi State never threatened after the first against Knight. Johnson’s staff leads the SEC in strikeouts and collected another 14 in the win.
The Big Stick + Arm
Knight has the best performance of his career. His season line now reads: 26 1/3 IP, 21 H, 7 ER, 34 K, 1 BB. That’s the stuff of Friday-night aces in the SEC.
He’s Arkansas’ most complete hitter when he’s on and a staple in the 3-hole. A 2 for 4 night against Pilkington isn’t anything to be ashamed of.
What’s next for Arkansas?
The Razorbacks and Bulldogs finish their series Saturday and Sunday with games at 7 p.m. and 1 p.m, respectively.