FAYETTEVILLE — When Casey Opitz didn’t get drafted in 2020 and opted to return to Arkansas that could have been the beginning of what has turned into a dream season for the Razorbacks.
When Major League Baseball reduced the draft to five rounds several outstanding players were bypassed including Opitz. Dave Van Horn knew the importance of Opitz returning immediately.
“He’s the glue to our club,” Van Horn said. “I mean the guy calls about 99 percent of the pitches. The pitchers trust him. There’s not a better blocker, receiver and catcher at this level. We knew when he told us he was coming back we were gonna be a great team this year.”
At the plate, Opitz is hitting .263 with one home run and 15 runs batted in, but that is only a small percentage of how he helps the Hogs.
“I think he’s had an incredible season when you talk about number of innings caught, all the pitchers, the different type of pitchers he’s caught,” Van Horn said. “His receiving has been incredible. The blocking has been incredible. I honestly feel like his throwing has gotten better the second half, like his accuracy, arm strength is back where it always was and maybe even better. I made the comment that I feel like nationally, there’s not a better receiver in college baseball and I truly mean that. Without Casey, we wouldn’t be where we are.”
While some in Opitz’s position might have not been happy having to return to college when they were good enough to have been drafted pretty high in a normal year. Van Horn says he saw none of that from Opitz.
“I thought he had a really mature approach,” Van Horn said. “Once he got back to campus, he wasn’t pouting around, thinking, ‘I shouldn’t be here. I should be in the minor leagues or in offseason right now.’ Or whatever. He just came here and he was Casey Optiz. The same Casey Optiz we always knew with a smile on his face. Really, really good leader.
“I couldn’t have asked for anymore from him, honestly. I mean, it’s been a pleasure to have him in our program. I’m just glad we got to be around him another year. When the season finally does come to an end, it’s going to be tough watching No. 12 walk out the door to be honest with you. He’s been amazing. I’ve had some great catchers, and he’s as good or better than anyone I’ve ever had.”
Opitz’s importance was on full display Saturday when Connor Noland pitched three innings to get the save against Ole Miss. Noland has battled some injuries this season, but came up huge in the SEC Tournament semifinals.
“It was huge,” Opitz said. “The whole team’s behind Connor. He’s a guy we all root for just because he works so hard and he’s a great teammate. To be able to have him come in for those three innings and just shut them down and throw those strikes and be really effective, it got us fired up.”
After the game you said something to Noland, care to share what you were telling him?
“I think I just said, that’s you, and I kept repeating it,” Opitz said. “Like that’s the guy I’ve seen in the past, and that’s what he can do for this team. He showed it today. So I was pumped for him.”
Opitz and the Hogs try to add to a spectacular season beginning Friday in the Fayetteville Regional.