Arkansas junior Zach Jackson made it interesting in the ninth before recording the save to help the Hogs to a 2-0 start after a 4-3 victory Saturday over Central Michigan before 11,341 at Baum Stadium.
There was talk in the offseason that Zach Jackson might be used as a starter after finishing the season as the SEC's top closer. Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn was glad to have Jackson in his late-inning role Saturday in a 4-3 victory over Central Michigan.
Jackson got the final five outs to record his first save, but not after losing the strike zone just as he often did early last season. Jackson got four of his five outs via the strikeout, including the last one with the bases loaded.
"This is exactly why we told Zach we needed him in the late innings," Van Horn said. "We lost some of these games early last year. It's good to have his experience out there and his stuff. He's got good stuff."
Jackson said the crowd of 10,219 -- with every seat sold for paid of 11,341 -- had him "too amped up." Central Michigan hitters rarely offered at any of Jackson's pitches, mostly nasty breaking curves on Saturday after throwing all fast balls in one inning Friday.
Jackson entere in the eighth after the Chippewas put a runner on third with one out. He got out of that jam with two strikeouts, all on curve balls that were taken for strikes. Jackson said pitching coach Dave Jorn calls everything from the dugout.
"I don't shake him off," Jackson said. "I usually trust what he has to say. I didn't throw one off-speed yesterday, so showing off-speed today, there was no way they were looking for that. That's a lot of good thinking by Jorn."
"I was fortunate enough to get ahead in those counts. I just don't think they were looking for off-speed because I didn't throw it yesterday. Being able to go back-to-back days played into my benefit today."
There was some strange looks from the Arkansas pitchers throughout the game on the calls of home plate umpire Marcus Patillo. Van Horn was mystified on the hit by pitch thrown by Jackson in the ninth that resulted in the last CMSU run.
"We've had high strike zones the last two days," Van Horn said. "So it was about making adjustments and that's what you have to do. It was a very high strike zone today. I thought they leaned into one there. The rule says you have to try to get out of the way and I don't think he did.
"Zach was almost out of it right before then. He didn't get the call on a strike three that would have ended it."
Jackson said, "We have learned to pound it at the knees, but they were calling it high the last two days."
The win went to freshman righthander Blaine Knight. The Bryant product threw 74 pitches and went five innings. The Hogs got him the lead with two runs in the fifth after he had given up two in the fourth.
Clark Eagan delivered the tie-breaking hit with a clean single through the middle. The Hogs plated the go-ahead run on a double play grounder by Rick Nomura. Pinch hitter Austin Catron, a junior college tranfer, plated an insurance run in the eighth that proved to be the game winner with a clean single to right.
"We have put runners in position, but we didn't get the big hit," Van Horn said. "Credit their pitching. They have a veteran team, with good pitchers. They kept them in the game. We got a run with a double play. That's not what you are looking for in that spot. You want to put it in play to the outfield in the air.
"The biggest hit was Austin. He gave us a chance to win it. That was a big two-out hit."
Eagan said, "Austin did that in the fall. I think we are going to get that all year from him. He seems to have the clutch gene."
Knight said there were some nerves early as he saw the park fill up.
"The first few pitches, yes," he said. "But I think I was just pitching after that."
Maybe not, Van Horn said.
"He can usually go more innings than five," he said. "So I think there was emotion in his first game. He was fading. He was really good in the first, and OK in the second. But he was running out of gas."
Knight did admit that the strike zone gave him trouble.
"It was a little weird," he said. "All fall, it's been at the knees, at the knees."
Van Horn is never surprised when the park fills these days.
"I looked out there in batting practice and saw people start to come into the Hog Pen," he said. "That's a sign that it's going to be a monster crowd and it was. We've seen it before."
Two days paid attendance was 20,961. There was 8,542 in the park on Friday. Actual attendance for two days was 18,761.