Man On A Mission

FAYETTEVILLE — Chase Leavitt has already been on one mission in his life. Now he's apparently on another.

A native of St. George, Utah, Leavitt spent two years away from the game of baseball in 2005 and 2006 to complete a Mormon mission in Wisconsin. For Leavitt, it was an important time spent sharing his faith with others. But now there's another mission on Leavitt's mind, and this one is happening back on the ball field.

A senior center fielder for Arkansas, Leavitt was expected to serve as one of the Razorbacks' team leaders this spring. As a co-captain along with Ben Tschepikow, this was supposed to be Leavitt's year to step up his role inside the Arkansas clubhouse.

Fortunately for the Hogs, Leavitt is also stepping up his game on the diamond as well.

The leadoff hitter for Arkansas, Leavitt is off to a sizzling start in 2009. And with Leavitt leading things off in a big way, the Razorbacks have been able to ride the senior's hot streak to a pretty good early season as a whole.

"I feel pretty good right now," Leavitt said. "I'm seeing the ball well and just trying not to do too much. I'm just trying to take what the pitcher gives me."

So far, he's taking a whole lot. In the first 12 games, Leavitt is hitting a team-best .409 with seven runs batted in, seven runs scored and three stolen bases. Those numbers themselves are solid, but Leavitt's performance last weekend in a three-game series against California were nothing short of superb.

In 17 plate appearances against the Golden Bears, Leavitt reached base 14 times, had nine hits and capped the weekend with a five-RBI effort.

Now, as the Razorbacks prepare to open SEC play at 6:35 p.m. today against Florida in Baum Stadium, they know Leavitt's leadoff skills won't be overlooked.

"You figure in a game he's going to get five at-bats and right now it seems like he's on base three out of five times," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "That's pretty darn good and we know with him on base he's a stolen base or a double away from scoring.

"It's definitely a threat for the other teams to defend him and then pitch to our other guys coming up."

Leavitt played a big part individually in Arkansas scraping out two wins against Cal. But as the Hogs get ready for the SEC, he knows there's plenty of work left to be done.

"We're really pleased and excited but we need to continue to get better each day and build towards conference," Leavitt said. "But anytime a good team comes in here and we can win a series two out of three games, we're really pleased with that."

Winning two out of three will again be the goal — at the very least — this weekend against the Gators. And with Leavitt suffering from a hamstring injury that could cost him some playing time, Arkansas might have a harder time getting those wins.

But with Leavitt in the lineup, and at the top of the order, Arkansas' chances appear to be very good.

"He's a senior, he's been through the SEC and he had a great year last season," Razorbacks hitting coach Todd Butler said. "He's just the same guy every day whether he has a good day or not, and he seems to respond after not having the game he wants to have.

"He's just a great player, he's a great hitter and I think his swing is really coming on now as the numbers speak for."

Leaders Of The Pack

Arkansas leadoff man Chase Leavitt is one of several SEC leadoff hitters getting off to a strong start this season

Team Leadoff Hitter Stats

Alabama — Josh Rutledge, .308, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 2 SB, .410 OBP

Arkansas — Chase Leavitt, .409, 0 HR, 7 RBI, 3 SB, .527 OBP

Auburn — Trent Mummey, .433, 8 HR, 17 RBI, 3 SB, .541 OBP

Florida — Avery Barnes, .333, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 3 SB, .436 OBP

Georgia — Jonathan Taylor, .475, 0 HR, 8 RBI, 12 SB, .618 OBP

Kentucky — Chris Bisson, .412, 1 HR, 18 RBI, 4 SB, .444 OBP

LSU — Ryan Schimpf, .286, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 8 SB, .455 OBP

Ole Miss — Jordan Henry, .342, 0 HR, 8 RBI, 8 SB, .490 OBP

Mississippi State — Ryan Collins, .239, 0 HR, 7 RBI, 3 SB, .345 OBP

South Carolina — Whit Merrifield, .311, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 5 SB, .400 OBP

Tennessee — Josh Liles, .356, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 5 SB, .409 OBP

Vanderbilt — Brian Harris, .326, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 6 SB, .551 OBP



WHEN: 6:35 p.m. today; 2:05 p.m. Saturday; 1:05 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Baum Stadium, Fayetteville

ON THE AIR: KFAY-AM 1030, KURM-AM 790, FM-100.3; KHGG AM-1580 AM, FM-103.1; KXIO-FM 106.9

RECORDS: Florida 9-4, 0-0; Arkansas 9-3, 0-0

SERIES: Gators lead, 19-16

LAST MEETING: Arkansas won, 10-4 on April 13, 2008 in Gainesville.

TODAY'S PROBABLE PITCHERS: Florida, TBA; Arkansas, Dallas Keuchel (1-0, 4.00 ERA)

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