The most dominant pre NCAA Tournament college baseball team of recent decades is making some more noise in the postseason.
Arkansas baseball has been ranked No. 1 in at least one of the six major college baseball polls for 14 straight weeks.
To keep it up, the SEC Champion Razorbacks (48-11, 22-8) will need to win tonight at 6 p.m. in a winner-take-all game for the regional championship after Nebraska beat NJIT 18-4 and then Arkansas 5-3 last night.
Arkansas Baseball vs Nebraska
The Huskers, at 34-13, faced only Big Ten opponents before this weekend. Nebraska’s second year head coach, Will Bolt, was a second baseman and shortstop on the Dave Van Horn-led Nebraska team that went to the College World Series in 2001 and 2002.
“I was probably 16 years old when he first started recruiting me first started watching me play when he was at Northwestern State,” Bolt recalled in the below interview about Dave Van Horn.
“I just kind of had an instant attraction that the way he taught the way he, I guess, coached the game. I just felt like it was a guy that seemed to just exude confidence and leadership and he just knows knows the game of baseball.”
Will Bolt as “Dave Van Horn Jr.”
Just like Nolan Richardson saw so much of himself in Mike Anderson when he coached Anderson at Tulsa, so did Nebraska beat writers see much of Van Horn in Bolt.
In fact, one of those writers went so far as to give the fearless and gutsy Bolt the nickname: “Dave Van Horn Jr,” according to Kiley Cruse of the Omaha World.
“He looked like Van Horn. He talked like Van Horn. He walked like Van Horn. He had the same mannerisms. He held his arms to his side like Van Horn did.”
“And, like Van Horn, he wanted to absolutely crush the opponent. He was like Van Horn’s Mini-Me.”
“Mostly, Bolt was like having a coach on the field for Van Horn.”
They often were among the last ones to leave the ballpark, too.
Will Bolt recalled Dave Van Horn “had all these grand plans to have a chance to go to College World Series and he was able to provide all those experiences for us.”
“So, there was point in time I think my senior year, when we clenched to go to Omaha at home for the second year in a row. We were both kind of the last ones there on the ballpark.”
“And I just kind of look at them like, ‘We did it again, didn’t we?'”
Most likely, though, the good vibes end here for Will Bolt and Nebraska baseball.
Just like Dave Van Horn showed his former assistant, Tony Vitello, who’s boss in the last few weeks, it looked like Van Horn would do the same with his Mini-Me until Sunday night.
Nebraska, facing elimination, got up on the Hogs by one run in the first inning.
But the Razorbacks used two singles, an error and a wild pitch to score three times in the top of the third. The Hogs, however, coughed up that two-run lead as the offense struggled to produce against Husker reliever Spencer Schwellenbach.
All five of Nebraska’s runs came against Arkansas baseball starter Lael Lockhart, who allowed four earned while striking out five in 4 1/3 innings.
A throwing error in the bottom of the third led to the first of four unanswered runs, helping the Cornhuskers chip away at the Razorbacks’ lead.
Ryan Costeiu and Connor Noland followed Lockhart out of the bullpen, combining for five strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings of relief work. Noland faced the minimum in two innings, retiring the Nebraska side in order in the bottom of the seventh.
The winner of tonight’s contest will earn a berth to the NCAA Super Regionals and play NC State in a best-of-three series.
How to Watch Arkansas vs Nebraska
When: 6 p.m. on Monday
TV: Arkansas vs Nebraska will broadcast nationally on ESPN2
Arkansas baseball fans can watch via WatchESPN or through the ESPN app.
Radio: Razorback Sports Network from Learfield/IMG, including locally in Fayetteville on 92.1 FM.
Phil Elson and Bubba Carpenter will have the call.
For our latest post, go here:
Dave Van Horn after Sunday night’s loss:
“Yeah, just tough loss. I thought that Nebraska they outplayed us, no doubt and we made some mistakes. Some of our mistakes didn’t come back to get us as far as runs, but it could’ve. It was just sloppy on our side,. We had some chances to drive in some runs, we didn’t do it. Give Nebraska’s pitcher credit, they got out of some jams and you know they just outplayed us and they beat us and they’ve been here all day. Just disappointed with that but we still have another opportunity tomorrow so we just need to regroup and play better.”
RE: Confidence Going Into Tonight
“Well we’re always, we’ve come through most of the time like you said, but we have to play better than we did tonigh. We’re confident looking forward to tomorrow and you know we’ll fight them until the end whether we win or lose,. We’re gonna play hard tomorrow, I guarantee you we’re going to play better.
RE: Brady Slavens Return
“TI think it was you know (Kyle) Perry was probably not a great match-up to come off ten days off against left and Schwellenbach’s pretty good but I thought Brady took some really good swings. I mean he did a, he just missed some pitches, it’s just the way it is. I hope he has a better day tomorrow.”
CONNOR NOLAND, Arkansas RHP
RE: Mindset Heading Into Tonight
“Just come out and play how we know how to play. We’ve been in this spot before, we’ve lost a game before, we know how to come out and play and really come out with the right mindset. We’re a gritty team and I think you’ll see that tomorrow.
RE: Chances Of Pitching
“I think every pitcher on that staff has something left in the tank, we all want to be out there and I think we’ll do anything to win the game.
RE: Bouncing Back
“Just establishing the fastball, just getting ahead in counts. Anytime I can take advantage of that and have the hitters off balance is always a plus for me. That’s kind of what I focused on today.”
More on Arkansas vs Nebraska
Some in Huskerland feel like the team has been slighted by being sent to Fayetteville to battle the No. 1 overall seed.
They feel like Nebraska played well enough in the regular season (playing fewer home games than other Big Ten teams) to deserve avoiding that fate.
But in the same way Arkansas uses the way the SEC continually disrespects/overlooks it as motivational fuel, so should Nebraska do the same with the NCAA in this case.
“You figure out what the game is, you don’t worry about the other circumstances and you go from there,” says Evan Bland of the Omaha World-Herald.
They “have this challenge to go to the No. 1 seed and to feel slighted the way they think they have to feel, based on their resume to this point.”
Bland added he’s looking forward to an Arkansas vs Nebraska matchup “because it does seem like Nebraska’s more suited for that. And again, part of that goes back to the characteristics of the head coach, Will Bolt, and the characteristics of Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn.”
“To see those mentalities clash, it’ll make some pretty compelling television.”
Arkansas vs Nebraska: What Happened on Saturday Night
It took only four pitches for the Arkansas baseball team to make history Saturday night.
Matt Goodheart’s leadoff blast in the bottom of the first helped No. 1 Arkansas defeat No. 19 Nebraska, 5-1, at Baum-Walker Stadium to secure a 10th consecutive win and advance to the championship game of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional.
Goodheart’s homer was Arkansas’ 99th of the season in its 58th game of the year, surpassing the previous program record of 98 home runs by the 2018 Hog squad in 69 games.
Patrick Wicklander and Kevin Kopps were all the Razorbacks needed on the mound Saturday night. The duo limited the Cornhuskers to one run on five hits and two walks while striking out 13.
Wicklander earned the win and improved to 6-1, giving Arkansas five innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts before turning the game over to Kopps. The nation’s most dominant pitcher looked every bit of it once again, striking out six in his second four-inning save of the season.
Kopps, who picked up his 11th victory of the year in yesterday’s win against NJIT, now has 11 saves and a 0.74 ERA in 72.2 innings this season. He has tallied 112 strikeouts to only 15 walks.
Goodheart’s two-hit day, including his leadoff homer, led the Hogs offensively. Braydon Webb’s RBI single in the bottom of the second ultimately put Arkansas up for good before Cayden Wallace drove in one on a sacrifice fly to left later in the frame, extending the Razorback advantage to three.
Ahead 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth, Arkansas scored twice more to put the game on ice. Christian Franklin drew a bases-loaded walk, and Wallace later scampered home on a passed ball.
Dave Van Horn, Arkansas Baseball Coach
“I felt like we played really good defense, I think Patrick Wicklander had just enough. A little erratic the first couple innings, third and fourth is just seemed like he was throwing the ball a little bit better, throwing a changeup, a couple breaking balls. Nebraska did a great job at fouling off a lot of pitches, they got his pitch count up, but he contributed to that by getting behind in the count early but he fought back a lot.”
“He really did a nice job, got us into starting the sixth and gave up a leadoff single. We went to Kevin [Kopps], he did a tremendous job as usual. We scored just enough runs, got a couple big hits and manufactured two runs in the sixth on a couple of really tough at-bats that turned into walks. Nebraska pitched really well tonight so I feel really fortunate that we scored five runs on them.”
RE: Nebraska Approach To Kevin
“They did a pretty good job. The zone was jumping all around back there, neither pitcher knew where to throw so that was a little frustrating. I think it cost both pitchers a lot of pitches. We won’t know who is going to throw next until we see who wins tomorrow.”
RE: Arkansas Baseball Defense
“I thought Cayden Wallace did well, got an in-between hop and smothered it and we got the out. They ended up scoring a run that inning with a big two-out hit into left-center. Nesbit made a really nice play to end the game too. Plus, the grass is wet, we’re playing late at night, it’s tough for both teams. I thought Goodheart made a nice play in the first inning, we were just solid. Opitz had a great game behind the plate blocking balls, pitchers throw down there to him because they trust him.”
RE: Number Of 3-2 Counts
“I thought both teams did a really nice job fouling pitches off and getting the pitch count up. That’s what went on, there were a lot of pitches thrown tonight. We ended up drawing a lot of walks because of it.”
PATRICK WICKLANDER, Arkansas LHP
RE: Overall Performance
“Tonight I was just kind of working it. Fastballs, breaking balls especially. The first few innings I kind of got my pitch count up, but a quick fourth really helped me get my pitch count back into better shape.”
RE: Outing Tonight
“It’s definitely a good outing, but I wouldn’t consider it one of my better ones. There’s definitely been better ones in the past, but something great to build off of right now.”
RE: Having Kevin Kopps In The Bullpen
“Obviously no one wants a quick hook, but having Kevin be back in the bullpen makes things a little bit easier.”
RE: Approach Towards Nebraska
“Just moving the ball up and down, in and out, mixing pitches whenever I could. They’re a really good team, a big physical team. Just overall being able to move the ball around.”
RE: Pitching In This Atmosphere
“It’s incredible. Especially in front of a big crowd like we had here tonight. Especially against a good team. It’s really something to build off, going into supers, bringing into tomorrow and the future.”
MATT GOODHEART, Arkansas RF
RE: Home run In First Inning
“He gave me a fastball and that’s usually the pitch a lot of us are trying to attack, especially early in the game. I saw it and decided that if I was going to hit it, I was going to have to hunt it off the ground and try and get under it. It’s nice to jump out ahead, it’s always nice to score runs regardless of the situation. It also goes to show that no matter what part of the game it is, no matter what the score is, I have confidence in my team, whether it’s the pitching staff or the hitting. “
RE: Offensive Approach As Leadoff Hitter
“I think there are parts of an approach that are constant, that are going to stay the same, throughout my career, no matter the pitcher. Then there’s some that are pitcher to pitcher, that are going to change with every pitcher and a lot of the times, even pitch to pitch.”
“I would say it’s more dependent on the setting, if there are runners on, how many outs there are. Our approach as a team was to see it up, see it in the zone The first guy was a sinker kind of guy, he liked to look down in the zone and he did a good job at it. We had to hunt it down, make him throw over the plate, make him throw it knee-high and when we did that, we were much more successful.”
Arkansas Baseball Game 1 of Fayetteville Regionals
No. 1 Arkansas used the long ball to overcome an early three-run deficit and outslug NJIT, 13-8, in the first game of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional on Friday afternoon at Baum-Walker Stadium.
The Razorbacks rallied from a deficit of at least three runs for the 13th time this season, including for the eighth time at home.
Down three entering the bottom of the third, the Razorbacks scored two in the frame on Braydon Webb’s dinger to left before exploding for seven more runs in the fourth. Christian Franklin’s game-tying solo blast was one of three Arkansas home runs in the bottom of the fourth inning as Cayden Wallace and Cullen Smith also got in on the action.
The Hogs now have six with double-digit homer totals. The foursome of Christian Franklin, Robert Moore, Brady Slavens and Cayden Wallace are tied for the team lead with 13.
Jalen Battles, meanwhile, swatted the Hogs’ fifth homer of the day in the fifth, extending Arkansas’ advantage to 10-3 with his sixth home run of the year. Battles scored a team-high four runs in the game, while Wallace and Webb each drove in three in Arkansas’ 13-8 triumph.
Kevin Kopps, who entered the ballgame with two outs in the top of the fourth inning, twirled 2 1/3 perfect innings in relief to earn his 11th victory of the year. The Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Player of the Year struck out one along the way, silencing the Highlanders’ offense across the game’s middle innings.
Arkansas used seven pitchers, including Kopps, in the game as starter Caleb Bolden lasted 1 1/3 innings before giving way to the bullpen. Ryan Costeiu tossed 1 1/3 innings of scoreless ball out of the pen, striking out three in his appearance.
Feature photo via Baumology (Rhett Hutchins)