No. 7 Arkansas overpowers Eastern Illinois on opening day

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The No. 7 Arkansas baseball team kicked the 2020 season off with a bang, rolling to a 5-1 victory over Eastern Illinois on Friday afternoon at Baum-Walker Stadium.

The Razorbacks (1-0) used three homers and 13 strikeouts to stay perfect under head coach Dave Van Horn on Opening Day. Arkansas hasn’t lost its season opener since 1994, facing the Panthers (0-1) in the first series for the second consecutive year.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Connor Noland got the Opening Day starting nod from coach Van Horn and was electric, tossing 6 2/3 innings to set the tone for the Hogs on Friday. The Greenwood native struck out half of the batters he faced, fanning a career-high 11 while allowing just two hits and one run, unearned, to cap a solid first outing.

The Hogs struck first in the opening frame thanks to an RBI single from outfielder Heston Kjerstad. The inning began with a full-count leadoff walk to outfielder Braydon Webb, who was quickly moved over to second on a failed pickoff attempt. From there, Kjerstad sent a one-out single to left field to drive in Webb for the first run of the day.

It was part of a three-hit day for Kjerstad, his 49th of his career. His other two hits were homers.

In the fifth inning, Webb worked a full-count into a two-out single and the Hogs made the Panthers pay for it, launching a pair of back-to-back homers over opposite bullpens to push the lead to 4-0. Outfielder Christian Franklin gets to hold the honor of “first home run of the year” for Arkansas in 2020, as he turned on a 1-0 pitch and drove it to the back of the premium seats in left field. Five pitches later, Kjerstad hit a solo shot into the right field bullpen to hang a crooked number on the Panthers.

After surrendering a run in the top of the seventh on a two-out error, Kjerstad erased the score by lifting a solo dinger high down the left field line and into the Arkansas bullpen for a 5-1 lead. It was the fifth time in his career he’s hit multiple home runs in a contest, last doing so against No. 18 Tennessee on April 27, 2019. He now sits in a tie for 10th in career homers at Arkansas with 33.

Redshirt-junior right-handers Marshall Denton and Kevin Kopps took over on the mound after Noland, as both allowed just one hit and recorded a strikeout over 1 1/3 and 1 frames of work, respectively. Redshirt-senior Cole Austin, playing in his first game for the Razorbacks after transferring from Arizona State, also produced a multi-hit game with a single in the second inning and a double in the eighth. He recorded 31 multi-hit performances during his two-year stint at West Virginia before becoming a Sun Devil.

The Razorbacks are back in action on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Baum-Walker Stadium, for game two of the three-game set against the Panthers.

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