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Oregon State to send senior southpaw Luke Heimlich to the mound, and Arkansas counters with unbeaten right-hander Blaine Knight

The all-day rain postponed opening day at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., 

By Arnie Leshin 
Arnie Leshin

It is official, Pat Casey is sending Luke Heimlich to the hill again.

Despite his No. 1 pitcher’s previous disasters in two other starts, Oregon State head coach Casey hopes the senior left-hander can get it together in game one of the NCAA Baseball World Series.

“I can’t answer questions on his personal problems,” Casey said, “but his pitching just hasn’t been the same out here. He’s got tremendous stuff, but has been missing the corners, his fastball hasn’t been a threat, and when he mixes his stuff, it’s not working.”

Doesn’t sound like the 6-foot undrafted hurler that went 15-1 this season and 25-2 the past two years. His talent on the mound was judged as indisputable.

Everything else about him, however, has become the touchstone for national debate. Last year he sat out the Oregon State trip to Omaha, Neb., amid revelations, that as a 15-year-old he pleaded guilty to sexually molesting his 6-year-old niece.

So in the face of a pair of polarizing national profile stories, his talent took a hit and he wasn’t chosen in the college draft last year. This time, he was again not selected.

And in his two starts at TD Ameritrade Park, he lasted only two and three innings. Was it nerves? Was it the national stage? Did the Arkansas batters figure out how to connect again him?

It appears that Casey took a while to name his starter for game one, which was postponed until tonight because of the rain that fell all day. At mid afternoon today, the sun has stuck through in Omaha, and the forecast calls for clear skies by 5 o’clock game time.

Razorbacks’ head coach Dave Van Horn had no problem naming his game one starter, and the Beavers will have to deal with undefeated 6-3 junior right-hander Blaine Knight. His record provides a way to describe his work on the hill.

At 13-0, Knight doesn’t have a No. 1 pitch, he has four different ways to contain the hitters. His curveball is tough to keep up with because he can cut the corners inside and outside. His fastball comes in low, high and across the plate at a high of 96 miles per hour. Then there’s the changeup that he uses when the batter least expects it. He also has a slider, so it’s not one pitch, it’s all of them to contend with.

But this could be his toughest test. The Beavers have six starters batting over .320, and from top to bottom a lineup that can hit the ball over the bench. But Knight did hurl in the tough SEC and did well.

Oregon State (53-11-1) had junior outfielder Zak Taylor, senior third baseball Jack Madrigal, junior outfielder Steven Kwan, junior outfielder Trevor Larnach, freshman pitcher Kevin Abel, and senior pitcher Michael Grether, were picked in the college draft.

Arkansas (47-19) didn’t do too bad, Drafted was senior third baseman Carson Shaddy, junior infielder Jax Biggers, freshman infielder Casey Martin, senior infielder Jared Gates, junior outfielder Eric Cole,, junior catcher Grant Koch, and Knight, who went early in the first round.

The Beavers and Hogs each have only three seniors, but plenty of freshmen, with Oregon State having 14, one more than Arkansas.

On a different path, the Razorbacks are proud of their supporters that brought the nation’s No. 1 college attendance. For the Regional and Super Regional they hosted, they packed in 89,852 at Baum Stadium. They averaged 10, 594 during the regular season, and a total of 311,828.

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