Arkansas’ Knight makes habit of beating SEC’s best

June 8, 2018

FILE - In this June 1, 2018, file photo, Arkansas starter Blaine Knight delivers to an Oral Roberts batter during an NCAA college baseball tournament regional game in Fayetteville, Ark. Knight has beaten most all of the Southeastern Conference's best pitchers this season while compiling an 11-0 record. The third-round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles hopes to stay perfect this weekend when the Razorbacks face South Carolina in a super regional. (Ben Goff/The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP, File)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Blaine Knight started seven games this season against Southeastern Conference pitchers who were taken ahead of him in this week’s Major League Baseball draft.

The Arkansas right-hander, a third-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles, has yet to lose to any of them — or anyone else, for that matter.

Knight’s knack for toppling some of the country’s best is one of the many reasons the nationally fifth-seeded Razorbacks (42-18) are confident they will return to the College World Series this season for the first time since 2015. To do so, first they have to win two games against fellow SEC member South Carolina (36-24) in a super regional series that begins on Saturday.

Arkansas will start Knight in the opening game, a familiar series-opening position for the junior who has compiled an 11-0 record and 2.74 ERA in 16 starts this season.

It’s not just Knight’s record that has impressed this season, or that he improved his draft status from the 29th round (Texas Rangers) last season to the 87th overall pick this season. It’s who the 6-foot-3, 170-pound hurler has left in his wake that has caught the attention of many.

Among those Knight has defeated in head-to-head matchups this season are top overall draft pick Casey Mize from Auburn, Florida’s tandem of Brady Singer (18th) and Jackson Kowar (33rd) along with Mississippi’s Ryan Rolison (22nd). Knight has also kept his perfect record intact in starts against Kentucky’s Sean Hjelle (45th), Texas A&M’s Mitchell Kilkenny (76th) and Mississippi State’s Konnor Pilkington (81st).

“I could be going against (Justin) Verlander, I don’t care,” Knight said. “I’m not trying to beat that guy or show somebody something, I’m not trying to do it. I’m just trying to go out and compete and when the competition gets better, I guess I do with it. I know what I’m up against, but I’m just trying to do whatever I can to get the win.”

After being drafted last year, Knight decided to return to the Razorbacks for another season — somewhat because of his draft position but mostly because of disappointment following Arkansas’ regional exit a year ago.

He believed he already had the talent to perform on the pro level after going 8-4 with a 3.28 ERA as a starter last year. However, Knight still had to learn how to harness that talent on a consistent basis and overlook little frustrations that sometimes affected his performance during games.

This season, Knight has learned to put aside little things like walks, bunts or just about anything else and is confident enough in his pitches to believe he can get out of jams.

“I think this year you’re seeing someone who has just learned how to pitch through things that maybe don’t go his way or a pitch he doesn’t get,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “That’s one reason he has 11 decisions and he’s given us a chance to win pretty much every time he’s gone out there.”

Arkansas has reached the College World Series four times in Van Horn’s first 14 seasons. From the outset this season, the expectation has been that the Razorbacks would return to Omaha for a fifth time to seek the school’s first national championship.

With Knight leading the way, those hopes are alive.

“There’s not a lot of security in baseball, but if you could say that there is a little bit, I would say Blaine Knight has it for sure,” Arkansas infielder Carson Shaddy said.

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