If you stayed up late Thursday night, like me, after Arkansas’ 6-4 win against Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament, you may have seen some good analysis from SEC Network and college baseball insider Kyle Peterson.
He said perfectly how I’ve felt for a while about Arkansas senior pitcher Kevin Kopps.
The Nebraska native who starred at Stanford and pitched in the MLB explained that the advantage Arkansas has with Kopps is he is more dangerous than an ace starter because he can pitch in more than one game in a series. It’s precisely why the Hogs have run through the SEC like a hot knife through butter winning every series and are in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament.
After an easy win against Georgia on Wednesday, Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn called on Kopps in the seventh inning as the Commodores were threatening a bit.
“The decision to put him in the game … we were planning on pitching him in this tournament and it is kind of the formula we have been using,” Van Horn said. “So, we put him in the game. We were hoping we could get another inning out of Caden Monke. Obviously, he couldn’t find the strike zone. “
“We wanted Kevin to go two innings – the eighth and ninth. But, we just had to make the move. Kevin was outstanding.”
The strategy says a lot about Van Horn and this team. There are many coaches who wouldn’t want to ‘waste’ Kopps’ arm in what some would determine a meaningless tournament since Arkansas clinched the regular-season title and has been the No. 1-ranked team all season. Still, with Kopps in the game, it’s easy to see beating Vanderbilt and taking one more step in cementing supremacy and winning the school’s first SEC Tournament title.
Kopps dominated the Commodores who are No. 2 or 3 in most polls. He retired nine straight batters on less than 30 pitches. The Vandy hitters were baffled by Kopps’ cutter and even though they knew it was coming were powerless.
“I felt really good warming up today,” Kopps told the media. “I knew I was going to be ready to extend If they needed me to. I just kind of went out and did that.”
Van Horn confirmed in the postgame presser that Caleb Bolden will most likely start the seminal game Saturday afternoon. It’s important to note that Arkansas got the day off Friday. That rest will help the entire team but especially Kopps.
“We will do what we can to win on Saturday. If we get to Sunday anything can happen. It will probably be a little bit of everybody if we are fortunate enough to play on Sunday.”
Since it seems clear, Van Horn is all in on winning the tournament, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Kopps pitch in the semifinals and finals. An ideal scenario would be closing out the next two games with one inning of relief as a traditional closer.
“You might see him anymore in the tournament, you may see him for an inning. We will see,” Van Horn said.
The game changer may have been Kopps’ efficiency Thursday night and the rest on Friday. Even though he pitched three innings, the low pitch count won’t have too much of an effect on the rubber-armed Kopps.
With the rest, he could pitch more than one inning in at least one of those games. If Bolden and the rest of the bullpen could get through Saturday’s game without needing him, you may see Kopps go three innings in the championship game Sunday.
Regardless of what happens this weekend, Thursday night was another example of how dominant Kopps is and how competitive Van Horn and this team is. If Kopps is on the mound, this team is hard to beat. Van Horn knew it was the right move in a highly anticipated matchup such as Vandy since the two powerhouses haven’t played this season and his team was excited to play.
It’s refreshing to see Van Horn is playing to win and not afraid to use the nation’s best pitching weapon. I would bet Kopps will be in the game long as needed Sunday if Arkansas is close to securing its first SEC Tournament title
Image courtesy of University of Arkansas Athletics