Rhoads Paves Way In Opener

MOBILE, Ala. -- Arkansas' 4-1 win over George Mason on Friday in the season opener for both teams was expected.

What wasn't expected was that the Razorbacks may have found a third starting pitcher in the process.

Chris Rhoads, a junior college transfer, was stellar in his Division I debut, allowing one earned run on four hits while striking out five with no walks in six innings. He gave up the lone run in the first when an infield single and couple of fielder's choices gave the Patriots (0-1) a 1-0 lead.

"A lot of people think we were pitching off (starting a weak pitcher against a weak opponent) with Chris, but we weren't," said Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn. "He pitched well and worked his way from behind (in the count) a few times and the defense played well behind him.

"But he did a tremendous job for his first time out. I'm proud of him."

Last season, the Razorbacks (1-0) struggled to find a third starter behind consistent regulars Nick Schmidt and Charley Boyce. Schmidt starts against Oklahoma State at 4:30 p.m. today, while Boyce wraps up the Jaguar Invitational by starting against host South Alabama at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

But with the way Rhoads, who prepped at North Little Rock, performed in front of 242 fans at Stanky Field, Van Horn believes he may have finally found the missing link on the pitching staff.

"That's why we threw him," Van Horn said. "We wanted to see how he handled being a starter and he handled it well. And until somebody beats him out or does better, it's going to be hard to take him out of that spot."

Thanks to his two years of experience at Pratt (Kan.) Community College, Rhoads didn't seem too nervous, at least not after the game got under way.

"He was antsy before we went out and couldn't hardly sit still," said catcher Brian Walker. "But for the first time out, he had some good stuff. It was a good start, but he knows there's some room for improvement."

Rhoads' "good" stuff included a fastball that hovered around 90 mph as well as a slider and curveball he used for the majority of his strikeouts. Considering it was his first Division I collegiate start, he worked fast and appeared confident for all six innings.

"I was a little nervous, but kind of got settled in after that first inning," Rhoads said. "I didn't have my best stuff, but I know what I was doing wrong and know what I need to do to improve.

"Still, it just feels good to get that first game team win."

It was important for pitching to be strong Friday since the Hogs' hitters, perhaps pressing too much at times, scrapped for only five hits off of George Mason left-handers Eric Gibbons and Billy Tinsley.

"We've got to drive in runs," Van Horn said. "Our older guys didn't do a great job (Friday) and I think some were just trying too hard. I expect them to have a better day (today)."

Arkansas' offense needed some help and got it with four Patriots' errors, one leading to the go-ahead run in the fifth inning.

"I was excited about the way we pitched," said George Mason coach Bill Brown. "Obviously, our defense was poor and our offense wasn't there and that was the difference."

Despite the five hits, a pair of Arkansas hitters did make an impact. Blake Parker tattooed a fastball over the scoreboard (an estimated 40-feet high) in left to even the score at 1-all in the second inning. Not to be outdone, Danny Hamblin also clubbed a solo homer over the left-center field wall extending the lead to 3-1 in the sixth.

Arkansas scored its final run in the eighth when Stephen Robison pushed a bunt down the first-base line for a single to score Clint Arnold, who led off the inning with a single.

"We've got to do a lot of things better," Hamblin said. "But the main thing is we got the win and got those first-game jitters out of the way."

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