The Diamond Hogs took care of business on Opening Weekend in front of 29,000+ at Baum-Walker Stadium completing the sweep of the Eastern Illinois Panthers. There are plenty of highlights to mention, but none better than Junior OF Heston Kjerstad blasting four home runs, seven hits, and ten runs batted in. Sophomore RHP Connor Noland pitched a gem, throwing for 6.2 innings and striking out eleven while only surrendering two hits.
While Arkansas did everything they were expected to (and more), they will be facing much stiffer competition for the remainder of this month. This weekend they welcome the Gonzaga Bulldogs from Spokane, Washington and the following they travel to Houston for games against Oklahoma, Texas, and Baylor in the Shriner’s Hospital for Children Classic at Minute Maid Park.
Gonzaga opened their season as a participant in the Sanderson Ford College Baseball Classic and even though they dropped two games to start 2-2, it would be extremely dangerous to overlook them. In two of those contests, they split games with national power Oregon State.
They were picked by the media to finish first for the second straight season in West Coast Conference, just edging BYU after sliding one game behind the Cougars in 2019 for the regular season conference standings.
The Bulldogs have earned their way to the NCAA Tournament in two out of the previous four seasons under head coach Mark Machtolf and are led by All-WCC RHP Alek Jacob. The junior pitched for the first time this season on February 15th against Oregon State, and despite Gonzaga earning the victory he started off cold throwing four innings giving up three earned runs, five hits, and striking out six. In 2019 he was tabbed 1st team All-WCC leading the Bulldogs with 87 strikeouts and a 2.17 while posting a 7-3 record in 78.2 innings.
Shortstop Ernie Yake and Third Basemen Brett Harris are the two others who received All-WCC preseason honors along with Jacob.
According to an article by The Spokane Review, Gonzaga assistant coach Brandon Harmon praised Yake as “the best all-around player in the conference as he is one of the top defensive infielders in the league.” Yake had at .302 batting average in 2019 to go along with 30 RBIs. Harris’ numbers were almost identical to Yake’s, batting .305 and 26 RBIs.
Arkansas completed their first weekend of play with plenty of honors. Noland was named SEC Pitcher of the Week, while Kjerstad was tabbed SEC Co-Player of the Week and National Player of the Week as well. The Hogs received their highest top-25 ranking from D1 Baseball staying at number 7, while they also kept the number 11 spot according to Baseball America.