Kevin Kopps carried Arkansas on his right arm Monday into a Super Regional later this week along with another pinch-hit homer by Charlie Welch.
The final score was 6-2. Jaxon Wiggins started for the Razorbacks and got two batters out in the third before Kopps came in and Nebraska pushed across a run on baserunners he inherited for a 2-0 lead.
He finished the game, throwing 90 pitches. It was his third appearance in the regional and he threw 185 pitches by my count over four days.
“What an incredible, incredible college pitcher,” Dave Van Horn said later about Kopps.
Kopps’ drinking beet juice lately is what he jokingly refers to as the secret. Actually it’s a 24-year-old arm that is mature and a smart pitcher that is the age of a lot of pitchers in pro ball.
He’s the biggest part of this year for Van Horn and he knows it. He’s also not speculating on where the Hogs would be right now without him.
“I don’t even want to think about it,” he said.
Bringing in Kopps so early, Van Horn’s plan became get to the seventh or eighth inning and bring in Patrick Wicklander, who was chomping at the bit to get into the game.
“He wouldn’t let us take him out,” Van Horn said.
After the Hogs put up four in the eighth inning to seal the deal on what was a game that was looking like extra innings for sure (mainly on Welch’s three-run pinch-hit homer), Kopps simply told Van Horn he was going back out for the ninth.
“I’ve never seen anything like it as long as I’ve been involved in college baseball, to have a guy that’s able to go out there and compete at such a high level in such an environment on this stage and to do it over and over and over,” Nebraska coach Will Bolt said later. “There’s a reason he’s a national pitcher of the year.”
Well, he might end up being the player of the year as that vote is coming in the next few days.
For now, though, he’s carried the Hogs into a Super Regional matchup later this week against North Carolina State, who is hitting the ball a lot winning the Ruston Regional.
And there will be more standing-room-only crowds. They exploded on Welch’s homer in the eighth, which was a massive shot that was one of those no-doubters when he connected on a fastball he was waiting on.
“It was surreal,” Welch said later. “You could feel it on your body. It’s so loud you’re shaking. Your helmet is trembling. I’ve never experienced that.”
Van Horn noticed, too.
“That’s the loudest I’ve ever heard this stadium and I’ve been in some crazy games here,” he said. “That was incredibly loud.”
Now they’ll be needed again against the Wolfpack, who is on a roll. The Hogs are just two wins away from going back to Omaha to play for a national title.
Which has been the goal for Van Horn and this team all year long.