Arkansas opened its 2014 baseball season the way it is used to doing – with a win.
Pitcher Jalen Beeks fired six scoreless inning while Brian Anderson, Joe Serrano and newcomer KJ Wilkerson all had three hits as the Razorbacks pounded out 13 hits and downed Appalachian State 12-2 before 4,337 fans at Baum Stadium.
Beeks' effort was the longest opening day start for Arkansas since 2008 while Anderson had three RBIs and Wilkerson blasted a two-run homer while coming up just a triple shy of the cycle in what was the Razorbacks' 20th straight opening day victory.
"I thought he did a great job," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said of Beeks. "He had good stuff. He actually – to me – looked like in the fifth and sixth inning, the last couple of innings, that he really got into a groove. His sixth inning was probably his best inning and he still had good velocity. It was the same in that he was throwing the ball 90 to 92 miles per hour on a chilly night and had a pretty good change-up, a little slider."
Beeks allowed three hits, walked one and fanned six in the Razorbacks' 400th win at Baum Stadium while matching the opening day start of current Houston Astro Dallas Kuechel back in 2008.
"We just ask him to go out there and attack the zone and try to get ahead of hitters, let them hit it and let us play defense," Van Horn said. "I thought the defense did a good job behind him and he did a great job."
Beeks said he was nervous at first, but double plays in both of the first couple of innings got him settled down.
"You feel a lot more comfortable with the type of defense that we have out there right now," Beeks said. "They have really good chemistry up the middle and anything that's up the middle with a guy on I feel like they'd get to."
Tyler Spoon's RBI single got the scoring for Arkansas in the opening inning against Appalachian State starter and loser Jamie Nunn and Bret McAfee pushed it to 3-0 with a two-run, two-out single later in the frame.
Wilkerson - whose first name is really Krisjon - then hammered a two-run, opposite field line drive that got over the fence in right to push Arkansas ahead 5-0 in third.
"it was a dream come true," Wilkerson said. "That was a great experience for me. I've just got to give God all the glory in that situation."
Anderson then delivered a bases-loaded, bases-clearing double in the fourth that took any doubt about the game away as the Razorbacks surged ahead 8-0.
He was announced Friday as one of 60 players who were on the Golden Spikes watch list - an award which goes to the best player in college baseball.
"He actually left a few up that I didn't put very good swings on," Anderson said. "But I was able to get it to full count and he left me a fastball out over the plate and I was just able to put a good swing on it and we were kind of able to put the game away at that point."
Van Horn was pleased with what he saw from the offense.
"I tell you what we did," Van Horn said. "We just did a tremendous job of laying off borderline pitches early in the count and then we got into hitters count and fouled a lot of pitches off. We got their starter's pitch count up big-time and that is what got him out of the game really – the number of pitches he threw.
"I guess to answer your question I was just really impressed with the way that we handled ourseleves in the batter's box," Van Horn said. "We didn't reallty give up any at-bats. We battled and did a good job. A little bit ahead of where I thought we would be. It's just one game, but we faced a pitcher that had a lot of experience and he kind of threw a hard sinker that we did a good job of laying off of it and it ended up being out of the zone."
Wilkerson, a junior college All-American from Mississippi who has grabbed the Razorbacks' designated hitter spot, would later add a double and a single in his college debut.
"His first at-bat he took strike three and I think he was really disappointed with that," Van Horn said. "But then he hits a home run, strikes out his third at-bat, hits a double and then gets an infield single with two strikes.
"It was a great day for him," Van Horn added. "He is a tough out and he has a very good eye at the plate. There were some borderline pitches that didn't go his way, but I am just happy for him because he works hard."
The lead grew to 11-0 in the fifth as Serrano added a sacrifice fly and then the Razorbacks plated a pair of unearned runs.
"As a team we kind of felt like we just got out there and we wanted to show them what we could do early," Serrano said. "It was almost near a month before we finally got on the field and we were just really excited to be out there and got a pitch and Brian did his thing."
Jackson Lowery pitched a scoreless inning of relief in the seventh before Appalachian State broke up the shutout in the eight after freshman hurler Dominic Taccolini hit the first two batters of his career and they both came around to score.
The Razorbacks then capped the scoring in the eighth when Wilkerson reached on an infield single and eventually scored on Bobby Wernes' groundout and then releiver Lance Phillips finished the game out with a scoreless ninth inning.
"Pitching was good," Van Horn said. "Taccolini's stuff was really good. It was moving all over the place. He hits two batters - those runs score. He got behind 3-1 and just threw a fast ball and he singled up the middle and drove in two runs But his stuff was good.
"Everybody threw well," Van Horn added. "He didn't throw great but he had good stuff. We are going to bring him along slowly because he has got that kind of stuff that can get anybody out if he can get it in the zone. I am really proud of our pitching staff. They did a tremendous job."
Appalachian State had trouble traveling because of the weather and didn't arrive until early Friday afternoon.
The game was pushed back an hour until 4:05 because neither team really wanted to play a doubleheader on Saturday.
"It was tough travel for them," Van Horn said. "They wanted to play today. They didn't want to play two tomorrow either. They are like us, doubleheaders are tough, it's a long day at the park and I don't think they would say that's what cost them the game.
"Obviously they weren't in a rhythm but I think what happened is we came out and did a tremendous job offensively at the plate and got the lead and put a lot of pressure on them," Van Horn said.
The Razorbacks skipper was pleased with the first day overall.
"Yeah, we got a chance to save some pitching," Van Horn said. "We are a little bit shorthanded with experience with (Colin) Poche and (suspended Trey) Killian - Killian being out a couple of weeks and Poche not being able to start because he would have got a start if he was healthy.
" He's healthy but just not ready to start yet," Van Horn added. "You'll probably see him on the mourn this weekend for about 20 to 25 pitches.
"We got to put some young guys in and kind of let them get their feet wet a little bit and get that first at bat out of the way and that first inning out of the way and increase their roles as time goes on," Van Horn said. "So I would say that's a great first night for us."
Arkansas and Appalachian State will meet in the second game of their three-game series Saturday at 12:05 p.m.
Arkansas 12, Appalachian State 2
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