By Nate Allen
Special to the News-Times
FAYETTEVILLE - With less than his best stuff, Blaine Knight stuffed the best team he’s pitched against this season.
Knight shut out the Pac 12 power Southern California Trojans for six innings Friday afternoon before 6,008 at Baum Stadium.
Knight, now 2-0, relayed a 4-0 lead to freshman reliever Jackson Rutledge to maintain the final three innings for a 4-0 Razorbacks victory, upping Arkansas to 8-2 going into today’s 2 p.m. game against the now 7-2 Trojans.
The three-game series concludes at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
A two-out, two-run home run by Arkansas senior designated hitter Luke Bonfield in the first and Bonfield’s fifth-inning RBI groundout immediately after Heston Kjerstad’s RBI single provided the offensive comfort required even as Knight confessed, and Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn affirmed, that Knight pitched uncomfortably.
Other than a 1-2-3 fifth, Knight pitched from the stretch every inning, scattering six singles plus a hit batsman and a walk and his own error for missing first base on a throw from first baseman Jared Gates.
Yet, supported by otherwise errorless defense, Knight never allowed a Trojan beyond second base.
“Blaine Knight didn’t have his command today really and USC did a great of job laying off a lot of pitches and getting his pitch count up (98 pitches for six complete),” Van Horn said.
“For him to go out there and give us six innings for awhile there when it looked like he was going to give us four, five at the most.
“I almost pulled him after five but he wanted to go out and he actually had a really good sixth inning.
“He threw some of his better located fast balls and a couple of nice off speed pitches.
“I think the maturity is coming out in him now that he doesn’t have to have his best stuff and he can still win.”
Van Horn said Knight was aided by Arkansas’ errorless defense and that USC hit a couple of line drives smack into Arkansas gloves.
A Trojan tripping over second base on a teammate’s single to center and getting thrown out in a rundown helped, too.
“The defense, they were solid,” Knight said.
“I really appreciate them because they made some good plays for me that saved some runs saved me a lot of pitches. Big thanks to them.”
He needed all the help he could get, he said.
“My command was really not what it normal was,” Knight said. “I’m going to go back and watch film and try to figure it out.
“But I had to do what I had to do. I threw a bunch of off-speed to try to keep them off of anything hard. Defense backed me up big-time and I was able to gut it out for six.”
Rutledge, the 6-8, fireballing freshman hitting 98 on Friday’s radar gun, netted his first save by throwing a scoreless final three innings with two strikeouts against a hit and a walk.
It was redemption for Rutledge, whose throwing error last week made him the losing pitcher in the Razorbacks' 4-3 loss against Cal Poly, who had trailed before Knight was relieved.