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Hogs pitchers look promising early in season

FAYETTEVILLE — Starting with Clint Brannon, Charley Boyce and Jay Sawatski from his 2003 and 2004 first baseball Razorbacks coaching campaigns until last year’s losing season aberration, Dave Van Horn always had at least two starters and a closer pitching from reliable to outstanding.

They annually pitched their University of Arkansas, Fayetteville teams into postseason NCAA regionals and four times to the College World Series in Omaha.

For now it appears that Van Horn and new pitching coach Wes Johnson have the same formula that Van Horn and retired pitching coach Dave Jorn bottled for 2003 through 2015 success.

It is written “for now,” because we are only one SEC series into March in a sport finishing in late June. So Van Horn didn’t call them aces when asked if he starts two aces. He did allow starters Blaine Knight and Trevor Stephan have pitched awfully well against awfully good teams.

At this writing, before Arkansas’ Sunday finish at Baum Stadium to a 3-game SEC series with Mississippi State that Knight and Stephan started and closer Cannon Chadwick saved for them 3-1 and 5-4 Friday night and Saturday night, sophomore right-hander Knight of Bryant (2-1, 2.39 earned run average) struck out 34 and walked just one in 26 1/3 innings. Against him teams collectively hit but .216.

Stephan, a junior college transfer right-hander, is 4-0 with a 1.19 ERA striking out 40 against eight walks in 31 1/3 innings. Against him, teams hit just .156.

The season’s finish remains in the cards, but it surely appears starting with Arkansas aces in the deck.

Especially with Knight pitching well against Bryant University (47-12 last year), Arizona, Rhode Island and Friday night’s 11 strikeouts no walks and 3 hits through a career-high seven complete innings against Mississippi State.

Stephan excelled against those same clubs swapping Arizona for Nebraska.

Van Horn said Stephan gutted it out “without his best stuff” to pitch into the seventh Saturday against Mississippi State off dazzling Rhode Island with 13 strikeouts vs. no walks and 2 hits for 8 1/3 innings.

“We have two that proved they can get well into games against SEC teams,” Van Horn said Saturday night. “Obviously we played some good ones that we compared to SEC teams leading up to this weekend. And Mississippi State’s lineup is as good as we’ve seen this year. We’ve just been fortunate enough to stop them.”

Chadwick stopped them at the Friday and Saturday finish. Taking a 2-0 record into the series, Chadwick logged his season’s first saves pitching a 1-2-3 ninth Friday and relieving Stephan during Saturday’s seventh, consecutively retiring the Bulldogs’ last eight batters. For 10 games and 16 innings, Chadwick brought a 1.12 ERA into Sunday’s game.

“Before the series started, I was asked who was going to finish games,” Van Horn said Saturday. “I made the comment that Cannon had earned that right. He definitely proved it the last couple of days.”

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