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Arkansas' Freshmen Help Lead Razorbacks Past Texas

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Casey Martin (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

OMAHA, Neb.—He may not play like it, but Arkansas third baseman Casey Martin is a freshman. And even the best freshman can understandably feel a little awed by the experience of a first game in Omaha at the College World Series.

Martin admits he was a little nervous in the first couple of innings. He didn’t look as comfortable as he wanted to be in his first at-bat. But then it happened.

With one out in the second inning, Texas’ Zach Zubia hit a screaming grounder to Martin’s right. He didn’t have time to think, just time to snag it, spin and then throw a ground-skipping throw to nab Zubia. Web gem. Another out and one relaxed and relieved freshman.

“At first I was a little nervous, but after that play I chilled out a little bit. It’s just another game and another day on the field with these guys,” Martin said.

Four innings later, Martin was the player in the unenviable position of stepping into the batter’s box at the end of a nearly three hour rain delay. Facing Texas’ starting pitcher Chase Shugart, who was pushed into a relief role to try to keep the game close, Martin responded by singling in a run. Fellow freshman Heston Kjerstad followed with a two-RBI single. All of a sudden Arkansas had an 8-2 lead, Shugart was pulled and the Razorbacks were on their way to an easy, 11-5 win.

“These kids are special,” Razorbacks second baseman Carson Shaddy said. “There are no two freshmen in the country better than them. What they did after the rain delay was incredible.”

Hjerstad was the Southeastern Conference freshman of the year. If he hadn’t won it, Martin would have been an excellent choice.

On a day where almost everyone for Arkansas ended up having an excellent day, the Razorbacks were thrilled with what they saw from their pair of outstanding freshmen. None of which was surprising. Arkansas has a very potent lineup, but Martin (.344/.422/.571) hits in the two hole and Kjerstad (.340/.427/.576) hits third. On a team with plenty of veterans, like Luke Bonfield, Carson Shaddy and Grant Koch, it’s Martin and Kjerstad who put together some of the best at-bats.

No one made better contact for Arkansas on Sunday than Kjerstad. He singled to center in his first at-bat. He doubled to right the next time up. His third at-bat was a ground out, but one that could have easily been a hard-hit double if not for a good play by Texas first baseman Jake McKenzie. His next at-bat was the two-RBI single. Kjerstad hit the ball hard in each of his first four at-bats. He did strike out to finally show some weakness in his last at-bat of the day.

“(Casey) is the fastest guy here and he’s got incredible power for his stature. Heston, his hitablity (stands out). He never seems overmatched or overpowered,” Shaddy said.

Arkansas heads into Tuesday knowing they are two wins away from a spot in the CWS finals.

“The way they go about themselves is just special,” Razorbacks senior designated hitter Luke Bonfield said. “They don’t act like freshmen on the field. They’re never scared. It’s something I’ve never seen here. And it’s pretty cool.”

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