Photographs by J.T. Wampler
Arkansas shortstop Jack Kenley makes a throw to first base during Arkansas' 6-3 win over Texas A&M Sunday May 13, 2018 at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
Tuesday, May 15, 2018
FAYETTEVILLE -- The Arkansas Razorbacks swept three games from Texas A&M last weekend with starting shortstop Jax Biggers missing all but the first inning of the opener.
Jack Kenley filled in nicely for Biggers off the bench as the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville beat the Aggies 9-3, 3-1 and 6-3.
"I would give Kenley a really high grade," Razorbacks Coach Dave Van Horn said. "I thought he did an outstanding job."
Arkansas (36-15, 17-10) stayed atop the SEC West by a game over Ole Miss going into the final regular-season series at Georgia starting Thursday.
"Kenley's a guy that on a lot of teams would have started this year because he brings a lot to the table," Van Horn said. "He's a really good defender. He can run, he can bunt, he can handle the bat a little bit.
"It's real valuable to have that, especially at this level."
Kenley helped the Razorbacks turn two double plays in Sunday's victory, including a diving stop of a hard grounder up the middle by Michael Helman in the third inning.
While on the ground, Kenley used his glove to flip the ball to second baseman Carson Shaddy, who then threw to first baseman Hunter Wilson to complete the double play.
"When the ball left the bat, I thought it was going into center field," Van Horn said. "[Kenley] timed his dive perfectly. He was fully extended, and he did a good job of not trying to flip the ball out of his glove immediately.
"He got to his knees where he had control of the ball a little bit better and flipped a perfect one to Shaddy. So at least we were going to get one out, and then Shaddy did a really nice job of catching it and turning and putting something on it to get a speedy runner. It was a super double play."
Kenley said he got a good jump on Helman's grounder.
"Helman's kind of been hitting the ball right at me all weekend when he was getting a piece of it," Kenley said. "I saw that I had a chance to stop it.
"Shaddy was right there talking to me. He was in my ear the whole time that as soon as I got a glove on it, I could get it right to him and from there it was easy. Just trust in Shaddy."
Kenley was 0 of 8 at the plate against Texas A&M to lower his batting average to .214 (9 for 42), but he walked twice, was hit by a pitch, laid down two sacrifice bunts and reached on an error.
Van Horn said Kenley made solid contact in some of his at-bats.
"The hits will start falling for him," Van Horn said. "He swung the bat good."
Kenley, a sophomore from Germantown, Tenn., took over at shortstop when Biggers was hit by a pitch on his left hand in the first inning of Friday night's game against Texas A&M.
"Just kind of out of nowhere Jack was thrown into the fire," Shaddy said. "But he did a great job."
The left-handed hitting Kenley played a role in Arkansas' five-run fifth inning against the Aggies in the series opener. After falling behind Texas A&M left-handed reliever Asa Lacy 1-2, Kenley drew a bases-loaded walk for an RBI and scored later in the inning.
"It was such a good at-bat," Shaddy said. "They have a left-on-left matchup, and the guy's throwing 95 with a good slider. Jack just acted like it wasn't anything, so kudos to him."
Before Kenley replaced Biggers against Texas A&M, he started three games against Alabama and two games against LSU at third base when Shaddy was injured and Casey Martin moved from third to second.
"He's always right there for us," Shaddy said.
Luke Bonfield, the Razorbacks' designated hitter and outfielder, said he hasn't been surprised by Kenley's contributions.
"I expect nothing less," Bonfield said. "He's a really hard worker, really good teammate. When he's in there, I have full confidence in him with the bat and on defense."
Kenley has committed one error in 35 games, including 12 starts, and has a .979 field percentage.
"Technique-wise, he's our best defender," Van Horn said. "He does everything the way that you would want it and coach it as far as fielding. The way his feet are, the way his hands are, the way he keeps his head down."
Kenley said the key to playing well off the bench is having a consistent approach.
"Just trust in your process, the routines you've set every single day," he said. "Make sure you're doing the same stuff to get better and just focus on that."
Kenley's focus includes working in the dugout to chart opposing pitchers so his teammates know what to expect in certain counts.
"Every single pitch you have a role to play, no matter whether you're on the field or on the bench," he said. "That kind of stuff keeps you locked in where if you go in, you're ready."
Van Horn said Kenley has the attitude a player needs to contribute off the bench.
"No. 1, he has to be very unselfish -- really all about the team," Van Horn said. "That's what Kenley is."
Sports on 05/15/2018
NO. 6 ARKANSAS AT NO. 13 GEORGIA
WHEN 6 p.m. Thursday
WHERE Foley Field, Athens, Ga.
RECORDS Arkansas 36-15, 17-10 SEC; Georgia 35-16, 16-11
SERIES Arkansas leads 33-21
RADIO Razorback Sports Network
INTERNET SEC Network-Plus
THE WEEK AHEAD
THURSDAY at Georgia 6 p.m.
FRIDAY at Georgia 6 p.m.
SATURDAY at Georgia 11 a.m.
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