FAYETTEVILLE – Barring the Arkansas Razorbacks landing a regional hosting slot three weeks hence, it’s not just their seniors playing their final Baum Stadium games this weekend.
Major League draft eligible quality juniors like pitcher Trey Killian and draft-eligible, 21-year-old, nation-leading home run hitter Andrew Benintendi almost assuredly will just practice at Baum but not play games there again following this SEC series with the Tennessee Volunteers Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
After this weekend’s 6:30 p.m. 6 p.m. and noon games, only Tuesday’s nonconference game at Creighton in Omaha, and the following Thursday through Saturday SEC finale at Georgia, remain for the Razorbacks prior to the SEC Tournament and NCAA Regionals.
All of utmost performance to all the Razorbacks, but for an Arkie like Killian — the Norfork native and first Mountain Home High grad to letter for the baseball Hogs since Nick Pitts from 2000-2003 — his Baum farewell starting Friday night’s game is a bittersweet extra he craves extra sweet.
“I don’t think it’s really hit me yet,” Killian said before the Razorbacks practiced Wednesday. “I have thought about it at the beginning of the year and stuff, but I don’t think it’s going to settle in until late in the game and I know that I am going to come out that it could be the last time I pitch in front of this crowd and in front of my family at my home park. I think it’s going to be emotional, but I think it’s also going to be fun. I am looking forward to it.”
Does he anticipate half of Norfork and Mountain Home attending?
“I hope so,” Killian said. “I do have a lot of family and friends coming out. So, it should be a lot of fun for them and for us.”
College is supposed to be a learning experience. For Killian, that means the life lessons baseball teaches, too. Killian has about experienced it all. He’s been the precocious freshman shockingly asked, and not surprisingly not succeeding, to start the 2013 season opener while staff elders were ailing. He rebounded from that first game fall off the horse to finish 3-3, with a 3.19 ERA.
In 2014 he pitched outstanding, four complete games in 14 starts and a 2.30 ERA with 62 strikeouts vs. 18 walks in 94 innings.
He could have sued the UA for non-support, giving his 4-9 record for pitching so well, given the lack of hitting or fielding or both behind him in so many 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 type games.
This season more of the same only worse. Tendonitis had him on the bench when the season began. He healed in time to start the third game of the SEC opening series at national champion Vanderbilt. He threw seven perfect innings with a 0-0 score to show for before Vandy beat his relief 1-0.
He has pitched better than his 2-3 record and bloated 5.40 ERA. On a day he didn’t have it, Killian took one for the team, pitching into the fifth inning while getting racked for 11 runs in the opening game at Texas A&M. He ate enough innings for Arkansas to save its best relievers to win the last two of that SEC series.
So even when he’s lost, Killian wins something, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn and pitching coach Dave Jorn both say.
“Whether we win or lose, he gives us a chance to get into the weekend saving our bullpen,” Van Horn said. “He’s going to give us five, six innings or more. We pretty much know we’re going to get a great effort every time out. We’re going to miss him when he’s gone.”
Robin Killian, Trey’s dad, taught him to pitch, Trey said.
Jorn refined him from there.
“Coach Jorn is a great coach and I am thankful for everything he has done for me,” Killian said. “He definitely made me into the pitcher I am today.”
Jorn’s teaching includes that a pitcher’s success isn’t always accompanied by a W.
“As a pitcher you are a defensive guy,” Jorn said. “All you can do is go out there and do the best you can and focus on making pitch after pitch after pitch and try to keep your team in the ballgame. You can’t control a lot of times, the losses. Your job is to go out and keep your team in the game. You focus on that it becomes a lot easier. You focus on wins and losses it becomes a lot tougher.”
Even if you can’t keep your team in the game, sometimes prolonging to keep your bullpen out of the game becomes almost as important.
“Obviously it worked out for us that weekend,” Killian said. “We ended up taking two out of the three. That was a rough game, but I will do whatever I can to help the team.”
Of course Killian most prefers starts like last week beating Alabama commencing Arkansas’ first three-game SEC sweep for 2015.
The tendonitis healed. The fast ball he’s always and secondary pitches he’s developed are there for a potentially fond Friday farewell.
“Everybody wants to go out with a bang on your home field,” Killian said.