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A Deeper Look at Arkansas Baseball’s Biggest Struggle in 2021

Arkansas baseball

The city of Omaha must be bummed.

Legions of Arkansas baseball fans won’t be descending on TD Ameritrade Park, hotels, restaurants and bars after this past weekend’s heartbreaking 3-2 loss to the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Despite a dazzling effort by the remarkable Kevin Kopps, the Hogs couldn’t muster enough offense and lost their first weekend series of the season: an amazing statistic in itself.

Coupled with incredibly poor timing. 

A tip of the hat to the Wolfpack. They brought a SEC-caliber lineup to Baum Stadium this weekend and got better than expected pitching to tip the series in their favor.

The old proverb “Live by the sword, die by the sword” applies as the nation’s leading home run hitting team got out-slugged in the series, including the dagger by shortstop Jose Torres in the 8th inning against Kopps. The dinger was Torres’ third of the series and came on an 0-2 count.

Just a great piece of clutch hitting in a huge moment. Credit where credit is due. 

Kevin Kopps was simply brilliant. That guy pitched 10+ innings over two days against a hot, intimidating Wolfpack lineup and made about 4-5 mistakes in nearly 140 pitches.

Unfortunately, two of them left the yard.

The phrase “gutty performance for the ages” doesn’t do his effort justice. An incredible, maybe once-in-a-lifetime type season where he wholeheartedly deserves every single accolade and honor — including, hopefully, the Golden Spikes Award — that comes his way. 

Arkansas’ defense had been stellar all season and the super regional was no exception. They committed no errors in Game 3.

I do wonder why Matt Goodheart didn’t play in the outfield sooner as he looked capable out there the last two weekends. His ability to play outfield would have allowed Charlie Welch many more at bats as the designated hitter this season.

Perhaps the shoulder that’s given Goodheart so much trouble over two-plus seasons finally felt good enough for him give it a go in the outfield.

Arkansas Baseball’s Biggest Struggle

The glaring scapegoat in the series loss and recent struggles was the offense. Throw out the 21-2 laugher on Friday and the offensive numbers fall well below what produces winning baseball.

Shockingly, against two freshman starters, a freshman reliever and twice against Evan Justice, NC State’s quirky but effective closer, the Hog bats went a wimpish 8-64 in games two and three.

Not many teams, even with remarkable pitching, can win when batting .125.

Sure, there were some obvious struggles with hitting by some star Arkansas baseball players — but those kids are probably having a hard enough time processing what happened to their dream season without having it pinpointed in this column.

The Wolfpack either had a brilliant plan on how to pitch to Arkansas’ lethal lineup or the Razorback hitters had a painfully stubborn approach. The reality is a little bit of both factored into the uncharacteristic lack of offensive production over the weekend.

Especially in Game 3, where NC State’s starter threw off speed pitch after off speed pitch and Hog hitters continued to try to yank everything to the pull side. Often hitting into the shift or being out in front lofting pop ups for easy outs. NC State then was able to offset the crafty righthanders with electric stuff out of two left-handed relievers. 

Tip of the cap to the NC State staff for having a game plan and the players being to execute to near-perfection.

Hitting’s hard.

During my career as an Arkansas baseball player, I wasn’t a hitter (not even a very good one in high school) but spent over 270 college innings trying to get them out with less than dominating stuff. Not being able to get by on stuff alone, I invested a lot of effort into understanding what a hitter is thinking and/or trying to do. 

When a pitcher, regardless of velocity, has two pitches working, he can typically keep a lineup off balance 1-2 times through a lineup. When he has three or four pitches that are on that day, hitters can expect to be dominated.

There will be no rhyme or reason to sequence, location and the batter seems to be behind 0-2, 1-2 a lot. Hitters become confused, begin pressing and that is how a slump starts. Hitters fall into the trap(s) set by the pitcher and don’t have the same leverage as they do in hitter friendly counts like 2-0, 3-1.

Everyone likes to hit fastballs, regardless of velocity, when the offensive player knows that is what they will get.

Unfortunately for the Hogs, NC State was able to force Arkansas’ offense into soft contact or swing and miss by mixing and matching pitches and making some big pitches in a few clutch spots.

The guys they ran out there hadn’t done it consistently all season, and so had high ERAs. But to their credit, the Wolfpack’s pitching after Game 1 was outstanding. Last weekend, it was painfully obvious some Hog hitters were in a bad place mentally with their offensive approach and confidence. 

The Outsized Role of Pitching

In football, Alabama can line up against an opponent they are supposed to beat and just wear them out game after game. They can send the same 11 dudes out there to start every game, on each side of the ball, and just exert their will on the opponent.

Yes, upsets happen but they are but rare. Basketball is similar. The starting lineup and a few key reserves play every game with the same skill set.

Baseball, meanwhile, is much harder to predict because the pitcher is such a unique variable game to game and within the game.

Different arm slots, different shape to pitches, varying velocities and movement affect the comfort of a hitter. When hitters are comfortable, they mash like we saw in Game 1. When the pitcher has an arsenal working, he might as well be able to pull Jedi mind tricks on the hitters. Especially those in a funk.

Kevin Kopps’ Last Game

Dave Van Horn made the right call in starting Kevin Kopps on the do-or-die Game 3.

If I had the best pitcher in the country at my disposal and he was ready to give me starter-type innings, then without question I run him out there from the get go. You’d think Kopps will be better than the opponent’s starter and the Hogs could score enough runs to make the back portion of the game meaningless.

Get off to a good, maybe great, start and then run away with the game. The game plan was solid — execution not so much as the offense never clicked.

When Torres hit that decisive homer in the ninth, it wasn’t because Kopps ran out of gas.

He’d been typical Kevin Kopps the innings leading up to that spot and was up 0-2 on the red-hot Torres. Kopps missed his spot (one of those 4-5 mistakes out of 140 pitches) trying to bury his put away pitch and the Wolfpack shortstop made him pay. That’s what clutch hitting is all about.

An inch of movement this way or that way on that pitch and he swings and misses or weakly taps the ball to a fielder. Such is baseball. 

Such a remarkable season ending on that pitch and subsequent result is really tough. He obviously deserved a much better fate. Despite giving up that home run, he will go down as one of the Razorback greats, regardless of sport. A remarkable pitcher that overcame a sackful of adversity and handled the heartbreak of Sunday with class.

That shone even more when Kevin Kopps stuck around after the game for over an hour humbly signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. 

Arkansas Baseball: Looking Ahead

I’m sure the loss was equally difficult for other great Arkansas baseball players like Casey Opitz, Patrick Wicklander, Matt Goodheart and Christian Franklin — all of whom likely suited up for the last time at Baum Stadium.

This was the first team to win 50 games (against the number one strength of schedule in the country) in the successful Van Horn era and the first Razorback team to do it since Coach Norm DeBriyn’s 1989 Omaha squad. 

An outright SEC championship and DVH’s first SEC tournament title were no fluke. An excellent defensive team that hammered the long ball like no other Razorback team ever. Pitching was solid and typically dependable the entire season.

The team battled a lot of adversity as well with injuries, highly ranked opponents on the road and weather that forced more than typical double headers. No excuses. They just kept plugging along.

Reflecting on the promise of what could have been and how it ended is tough. Not being in Omaha this weekend will be somber. But there is no reason to think the Razorbacks won’t be back in this position again. Soon. Very soon. 

Fortunately, a nice nucleus should return to the Hill for 2022, complimented with the number three recruiting class in the country. Dave Van Horn keeps reeling in the talent and the right kind of players for his program to the point where playing at TD Ameritrade in late June becomes the expectation not the hope.

Omaha wasn’t in the cards for 2021 but, rest assured, the Hogs and our incredible baseball fan base will all be back soon. #WPS 

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A nice trip down memory lane:

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Feature image via Baumology (Rhett Hutchins)

 

After Years of Raking Arkansas over the Coals, Clay Travis Pays Kevin Kopps a Helluva Tribute

Kevin Kopps

Lawyer-turned-sports-loudmouth Clay Travis hasn’t been especially kind to the Razorbacks over the years.

It’s not that Travis has been overly hospitable to any program, including his native Tennessee Volunteers, but he’s always seemed to reserve a special ire for the Arkansas sports programs and especially the Razorback fans.

“What would happen if every dumb person in the nation’s dumbest Southern state all rooted for the same team?,” Travis wrote a few years back.

“You’d have the Arkansas Razorback fan base.”

Ouch.

“Razorback fan idiocy is pure, undistilled, unadulterated stupidity,” Travis’ love letter continues.

“… You’d file Freedom of Information requests for your own coach’s cell phone records and start wearing a hog hat within days. You’re a special kind of dumb, the kind that has never left the state of Arkansas in three hundred years and truly believes that Razorback sports are the greatest in the country.”

Travis, apparently, doesn’t know that more Arkansas fans actually live outside the state than in it, with the DFW metroplex home to more University of Arkansas graduates than any other metro area.

But he’s never been one to worry much about making a preposterous reach here or there.

Case in point: Last fall, he proposed that Auburn, after firing Gus Malzahn, go hire Art Briles as head coach so that Briles could hire his son, Kendal Briles, away from Arkansas.

When breaking down his reasons for despising Arkansas fans, Travis tends to lean on fictional accounts born from his own fevered imagination over, say, actual facts or observations based on reality.

He once, for instance, spent half of an article focusing on Arkansas laying out a fantasy he had about an archetypal Hog fan named “Bobby Ray.”

Uncle Bobby loves guns, see. Lots of them. And he also loves driving his 1978 Ford pick-up with a camo top and the Arkansas Razorback peeing on an LSU logo on the tailgate.

And on and on.

A Helluva Kevin Kopps Tribute

For all his anti-Arkansas vitriol, Travis gave a surprisingly poignant tribute to Arkansas pitcher Kevin Kopps after Kopps’ gut-wrenching last game on Sunday.

Granted, Travis had to check his phone a couple of times to make sure he was saying Kopps’ first name right, but once he got going he was right on track.

Travis began his Outkick the Coverage show by discussing the clip of Kopps signing autographs for fans for an hour after the game, just minutes after the Hogs’ disappointing loss and he had bawled his eyes out in the dugout.

“You want to talk about an incredible testament to Kopps’s character, to probably have the most devastating moment of his college career and maybe his athletic career happen — you give up a home run in the top of the ninth inning, your team loses by one run after you came out of the bullpen to start the entire game.”

Travis continues: “After your team is eliminated as the overall number one seed you go around the entire Razorback Stadium signing for every kid that wants your autograph for over an hour.”

“Do you know what kind of character that requires? Do you know what kind of mental toughness that requires? Do you know what kind of perspective that requires?”

“To be a college kid, be hit in the face with the most devastating outcome that could happen in your athletic career, and then be selfless enough that you are thinking about all the Razorback fan kids that are there in the stadium that you want to help feel a little bit better because they desperately wanted to win too.”

Later, after praising Kopps character some more, Travis brought it home: “I think about it from the perspective of a dad now, I’ve got three boys. I want to see my kids win, I much prefer seeing my kids lose and still maintain their overall ability as humans.”

“Because it’s easy win with grace. It’s incredibly difficult if you are hyper-competitive to lose to get back up off the mat and go again.”

Travis says Kopps’ response sets and example for how all of us should react in the face of great disappointment: “Get yourself back up, dust yourself off and get right back into the fray.”

“I don’t know what Kevin Kopps’s future is going to be, but I would like to buy stock in it right now.”

“Not based on how well he pitched, which was very well in that game, but based on the way that he responded to one of the most difficult losses that you could possibly have.”

See his entire tribute here:

Travis is one of the Razorback fans’ most despised talking heads, and yet this may just be the most uplifting and honest things he’s ever done involving the Hogs.

Perhaps his hate of Arkansas only applies to football, or perhaps he simply decided to put aside the theatrics for a minute and speak from the heart.

Whatever the reason — well done, Clay.

And well done, Kevin, for being the kind of true hero we wish so many of our sports stars would become.

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For good analysis on Kopps, the state of Arkansas baseball and other big questions in Razorback sports, check out the latest “Ask Mike” show:

Feature photo via Baumology (Rhett Hutchins)

See our latest here:

Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Blood, Sweat & Tears Fueling Kevin Kopps’ Unforgettable Season

When Kevin Kopps’ wonderfully miraculous, sublime and otherworldly Arkansas baseball season finally ended, he looked like a mere human.

This is not a bad thing.

Granted, with all he’d done for the program, Kopps had no business seeing his last pitch at Baum-Walker Stadium sent so unceremoniously soaring out of the ballpark as it was. But there’s a good reason when he had to leave the field a few seconds later, nearly 12,000 Arkansas baseball fans rose to their feet and gave him an ovation that thundered across the surrounding Boston Mountains.

They knew how special the season they had just witnessed was.

Kevin Kopps starting for the first time this year and going nearly a whole game wasn’t enough to eke out a win against NC State in the rubber match, but he sure gave it his all and came close on a day the offense mostly disappeared.

Without Kopps, this Arkansas baseball team would never have made it as far as the Super Regionals.

The team never would have won 50 games for the first time in the Dave Van Horn era, won its first SEC Tournament title, nor become only the second SEC team to win every SEC series.

Here are some of the individual numbers that show elite Kopps was in 2021:

  • 0.90 ERA in 89.2 innings (best in the NCAA)
  • 131 strikeouts (No. 4 in the SEC)
  • 12-1 record with 11 saves (both rank No. 2 in SEC) 

Kopps allowed the least amount of home runs in the SEC and is top three in both least hits and least walks allowed. Players only hit .157 against Kopps, which is the second lowest mark in the conference.

In short, in his sixth year as a Razorback he had a season that sets the standard as the best Arkansas pitcher — and perhaps the best Arkansas baseball player — of all time.

“I hope that people can see my career and my journey and not think that they have to be some hot-shot or superstar,” Kopps recently said on the Hog Pod with Bo Mattingly podcast. “They can just achieve what they want just by working through things. I think a harder journey is better for you as a person.”

That Kopps believes this to his core was never more evident than what he did after Sunday’s disappointing loss. Before getting to that, though, let’s go back to the beginning.

Even Junior Colleges Didn’t Want Kevin Kopps

Growing up in Sugar Land, Texas, Kopps was a good high school player. But nothing close to great.

“I threw 85 in high school. I didn’t really have any offers coming out of high school. I maybe had Air Force and Columbia, but that was really it. There was no JUCOs, no smaller D1s. And I emailed Arkansas. [Coach Tony Vitello] came out and saw me.”

“I just think it was like God putting his hand in there because I don’t think I should have ended up where I am.” 

No doubt, his journey started from humble beginnings. I’m sure some of those schools who passed him over feel a bit foolish watching what is going on this year. He almost didn’t make this season happen, considering his senior year was cut short in 2020 by COVID-19.

“I didn’t like where I was,” Kopps said. “I called coach [Matt] Hobbs I think after the season asking if he wanted me to come back, or if I just needed to try and sign a free agent deal somewhere. Of course he thought I was stupid for asking that question.” 

Pitching coach Matt Hobbs made the right decision in telling Kopps he should rejoin the Arkansas baseball program.

I remember telling him that we want him,” Hobbs said on the podcast. “It’s a tough conversation to have with a kid saying ‘Am I welcome back if I want to come back?’ Now it sounds like a crazy conversation to have, but at the time it was pretty relevant.”

“He hadn’t pitched all that well, he was probably thinking if I go sign this thing for $1000, ‘Will I get a chance to play?’… It’s a difficult conversation to have. We obviously wanted him back, but I could see where he was coming from also. I didn’t hesitate at all in terms of ‘You’re going to be welcome back here. You’re a captain. If nothing else, you’re going to bring incredible leadership and the things you do that are very important off the field.’

Matt Hobbs Believed Kopps Could “Rewrite the Script”

“I also thought he could rewrite the script a little bit. I knew what we got in ’20 wasn’t Kevin Kopps,” he said, referring to Kopps’ 8.18 ERA that year.

“But I remember talking to him in ‘19 too about whether or not he should sign. Ask for $25000 or $50000 bucks and try to sign in ‘19. I remember telling him I think there’s more for you to do here. I don’t think you’re done here yet.”

“I kind of felt the same way after ‘20. That not how you want to end, that’s not how you want to go out. You meant too much to the program.”

In 2021, Kevin Kopps overcame any doubts about his ability to deliver on this potential as a Razorback. He made Hobbs and Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Van Horn look like geniuses for bringing him back.

Still, it was a rocky five years previous to getting to this point. He had so many obstacles that he had to overcome.

No Easy Arkansas Baseball Road for Kevin Kopps

“My entire career here has been kind of up and down,” Kopps said.

“I redshirted, played, had Tommy John, played, and then COVID. I’m on a good ‘playing every other year’ sort of thing right now. Last year my relationship with God wasn’t where it needed to be, so I started with that.”

“Then I just had a lot of time to myself to rebuild myself and really focus on baseball. Baseball and my relationship with God is really what I focused on over the summer.”

“I just trusted the process in that and he blessed me more than I could’ve imagined.” 

Kopps leaned on his faith to continue to recover from the Tommy John surgery on his elbow he had in 2018.

“I don’t think people understand Tommy John rehab takes like three to four hours everyday, just like really tedious stuff that’s not very fun,” he told Mattingly.

“And then like the whole time you don’t want to hurt yourself again. You’re paranoid throwing your bullpens, because your arm doesn’t feel real great until I think two years after. It doesn’t feel like I’ve had surgery, but the first year of recovery, it was always sore.”

“You always feel it, it’s always in the back of your head.”

Kopps had to miss Arkansas baseball’s 2018 run to the finals in Omaha because of his injury. As a player, it is very tough to not be able to compete with your teammates. 

“In the moment, you’re just like ‘Man this sucks’. But you keep pushing and trust in God and trust in the process in baseball. Whatever is planned for you, you’ll come out in that plan.” 

All of the obstacles have made Kopps better, and made him work harder. He wasn’t always as happy with where he is now in baseball and personally. So, he worked hard to reinvent himself.

“I stopped trying to be someone that I wasn’t,” Kopps said.

“I used to knit-pick myself, how I threw. I wanted to be more of an over-the-top thrower. Just everything about myself, everything I didn’t like. This [past] year I focused on things I did like about myself. I went back to my old throwing style. My old throwing position puts my arm in a good position to spin the ball how I want to spin the ball.”

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Hear the whole Hog Pod interview here:

How Kevin Kopps Reinvented Himself

Hobbs played a big role in Kopps’ reinvention, too.

“I’m a big-time over-thinker and [Matt Hobbs] helps to take the things I think about too much out of the game,” Kopps said.

“It helps to work through those things and I talk to him when I need help with stuff. The guidance that he gives is unmatched.” 

The extra time off in 2020 to restore his previous throwing style proved to be a boon.

 “If we play out the 2020 season, he doesn’t start throwing a two-seam fastball, which is really what the biggest change was — being able to get a pitch that he’s more comfortable throwing,” Hobbs said.

“I don’t know that he does that, he probably just makes what he has to get through the season instead of trying to remake himself. I think the more time he has to himself, the better he was able to do those things. Sometimes getting away from the people trying to fix you is the best thing you can do as a player.”

“And for him to go out there and do those things on his own is probably why he is the way he is now. He’s his best pitching coach. I’d like to say I’m his best pitching coach, but he’s his best pitching coach. He’s the one out there doing it. He’s the one that has to feel his way through things. He’s the one that had to get back to bring who he felt he should be.”

“I didn’t do that for him. Coach Van Horn didn’t do that for him. We didn’t do any of this for him. We gave him a chance to be here, but we didn’t do any of this for him. Kevin did this. The best thing I can say about Kevin is he made himself. He’s a self-made man. It’s just an incredible thing to watch.”

“I got to watch him throw a 35-foot short box every Thursday before a conference series and him trying to figure out why the ball isn’t spinning exactly correct. He’s a perfectionist still at the end of the day. It’s probably the funnest thing for me as a coach, watching a guy that’s tried everything, tried it again, and then just said ‘I need to be myself.’”

Kevin Kopps improved his pitching over the summer. He could tell it was going to be different this year. 

“I think I started to realize it was going to be different when I was throwing bullpens in the summer,” Kopps said.

“I went back to my two-seam and my old arm action and stopped trying to throw everything over the top. Everything started to click. I started to locate better. I think the problem with me my redshirt year, I just didn’t do very good, or my Tommy John year, I just wasn’t happy with that season.

“I wasn’t very consistent and I think that’s what makes good players great.”

Kevin Kopps Says Giving up a Homer is “Almost Relieving”


Kopps held himself to such consistently high expectations this season, and with a few brief exceptions delivered on them, that he playing imperfectly ended up as a kind of therapy.

“My first batter I faced in that last game against Tennessee, I gave up a home run. It’s almost relieving, that I finally gave up a run for the first time in a while, so I don’t have that pressure anymore.”

“I started to get back into a rhythm after that.”

That rhythm was shattered in the ninth inning of the season’s last Arkansas baseball when NC State’s Joses Torres blasted a home run off what would be Kopps’ last pitch.

As Kopps walked off the field, he fought back tears before meeting the embrace of his coaches.

At that point, the writing was on the wall. But they hadn’t taken what they saw all season for granted.

“When you’re out there and you’re watching him, you can catch yourself a little bit like ‘Wow I better enjoy this,'” Hobbs said. “With a guy like that you’ve got to sit back and say ‘This is incredibly special what I’m watching and I need to enjoy it because you don’t get guys like this very often.'”

Perhaps the most incredible thing to witness arrived after the game had ended, after Kopps’ Arkansas baseball career was likely over.

Kevin Kopps, despite experiencing the most gut-wrenching loss of his college career, knew hundreds of kids were just as gutted as he was after the loss. He also knew if some of them could get a photo or autograph with him after the game, it would make the loss a bit more palatable.

So he went out to greet them after the game. And he stayed, by himself — for a whole hour until no child had to go home disappointed they didn’t get their hero’s signature.

As good as Kevin Kopps’ wonderfully miraculous, sublime and otherworldly Arkansas baseball season, it wasn’t the by-product of a Terminator who nearly reached baseball immortality.

No, as his last game showed, Kopps was plenty human.

Someone we can all relate to.

In the end, he went out looking way more man than machine, among the fans who will always love him.

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This story was co-written by Braden Sarver and Evin Demirel

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Lessons from a Great Arkansas Baseball Season that Ended in Stunned Disbelief

Arkansas baseball

When it’s all said and done, we still have our milestones.

A bevy of firsts this season for one of the premier traditional baseball programs in the country:

  • Not losing a single SEC weekend series.
  • No. 1 ranking for a majority of the season, regardless of poll.
  • The overall No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament. Incredible consistency against the number one strength of schedule in the country. 

For a while, it seemed fitting to simply give the national championship trophy to Dave Van Horn and his troops and we can all get on with our summer. Owning the 2021 regular season and going unscathed in the SEC Tournament made the Razorbacks a confident “chalk” pick all the way through.

But as football analyst Lee Corso commonly quips: “Not so fast my friend.” 

Last week’s Game 3 escape from Nebraska, in which Kevin Kopps further cemented his case for best Arkansas baseball player of all time, reminded us just how many chinks were in this team’s armor.

The last two games vs NC State hammered the point home.

Arkansas lost a heartbreaker 3-2 in the rubber match of the Super Regionals at home. The team that led the nation in home runs and walks couldn’t connect with everything on the line.

Hog fans too well know the drill regarding seasons of various sports ending in a disappointing, sometimes shocking fashion. I don’t think anyone needs a reminder of Omaha 2018.

That squad was not as superior in the regular season but definitely good enough to win it all. So good that a misplayed foul popup is all that separated Arkansas from trophy-wielding glory and the agony of defeat. 

I know the feeling firsthand all too well, unfortunately. 

Former Arkansas Baseball Player on 1990 vs 2021 Teams

My redshirt freshman year, I was a spot starter and left-handed setup reliever for the 1990 Razorback baseball team headed by hall of fame coach Norm DeBriyn. We had experienced an incredibly successful campaign in the old Southwest Conference with a sparkling 47-13 record heading into NCAA regional play.

This squad was ranked in the top 10 a majority of the season, won the first outright SWC conference title in school history and was sent to Wichita State as the #4 overall national seed. 

The team was a mix of high end talent and gritty role players. Not unlike the teams you see Dave Van Horn run out there year after year.

Coming off a trip to Omaha in 1989 where we lost a lot of key pieces, our squad was not picked to win the league — much like the 2021 Hogs were overlooked. 

Everyone in those days chased Texas, which was coming off an incredible 54-18 record and runner up finish to national champion Wichita State in 1989. Texas A&M was also picked ahead of the Razorbacks coming off a season they went 58-7 and somehow DID NOT make it to Omaha.

We were led by All-American third baseman Greg D’Alexander as the big bopper in the lineup and two time All-American closer Phil Stidham who was Kevin Kopps-esque in terms of dominance from a submarine arm angle.

Current Razorback radio host Bubba Carpenter was an All-SWC outfielder on that team and possessed a smooth stroke from the left side.

We even had a player short in stature (a la Robert Moore) with the 5’2” converted infielder Jeff Houck starting in leftfield. The rotation was solid in the first two spots with an inconsistent, sometimes revolving door for the third starter.

Our team even won a prestigious early season tournament by rolling through the Pepsi/Me & Ed’s Classic in Fresno, California. 

See a theme here?

The 1990 and 2021 teams had similar personnel, similar regular season results. With one thing I believe will go drastically different…the post season.

Our 1990 team fell off during the SWC Tournament. We had pushed so hard to win that SWC regular season title with critical series against Texas and Texas A&M to wrap up the conference season, then a road trip to #5 Wichita State, that we simply hit a brick wall. 

The downhill slide started with a flat, uninspired 1-2 performance in the SWC Tournament in Austin. Then we were sent to Wichita (a couple of weeks after just playing a two series there) as the #1 seed in the Midwest Regional and previously mentioned #4 national seed. 

Nowadays, the way the NCAA Tournament works is quite different with the 64 teams making the tournament versus 48 and 16 host sites with a four team double elimination bracket. Those 16 winners matchup in a super regional where they play a best 2 out of 3 for a trip to Omaha.

But three decades ago the format differed. 

Then, there were only eight regional locations with six teams playing true double elimination for a trip to Omaha. The eight winners of those regionals advanced to Omaha. With only 48 teams in the bracket, the tournament was extremely tough and many brackets, including ours, would have three to four ranked teams duking it out for those coveted spots in Omaha.

Given the #1 seed in the regional, our matchup was against a lightly respected team — the Fordham Rams straight out of the Bronx. An East Coast team from some no-name conference has no chance against the No. 4 ranked team in the country, right?

Wrong. 

The impossible happened and we lost 8-5 with some early shoddy defense and the inability to get big hits against a super-soft lefty Bobby Aylmer. 

Wichita State, also stumbling down the stretch, lost its first round game to Georgia Southern (who advanced out of this regional) so the Hogs and Shockers had to match up in the losers’ bracket. After falling behind 6-1, we rallied back to tie the game 6-6, only to lose 7-6 where a bases loaded walk in the 8th inning proved to be the winning run.  

A one-point loss, just like the last two gut-wrenching defeats against NC State.

And just like that, a magical season was over. No Omaha.

The level of disbelief and emptiness was unbelievable. All of us players felt it and you could see it on our faces on the cover of the Arkansas Gazette’s Sports page the next day. Not many words were said post game.

Author is second from the left.

Not many needed to be said despite the highly successful season. Arkansas baseball had become a staple in Omaha, much like the modern teams are today.

Baseball can be a cruel game sometimes and we were the recipient of that proverbial gut punch.

From the depths of that despair, there are Arkansas baseball lessons to be learned. From a player perspective, baseball is a very difficult game to play at a high level over the course of sixty some odd games.

Our 1990 Razorback team had all the pieces to be in Omaha which would have continued a run of success with 1985, 1987 and 1989 all making it to the old Rosenblatt Stadium.

The missing piece was the postseason edge required to battle through the regional and advance. If I had to pinpoint one thing that caused our quick exit, it would be playing three immensely critical series plus a conference tournament with three of the four on the road.

Then loading up and going back to Wichita to play the Regional. As Vince Lombardi once said, “fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

That brutal grind at season’s end caused us to lose our edge. Simple as that. 

2021 Arkansas Baseball Team after NC State Loss

It helped that the 2021 version stayed home through the first two rounds this postseason. That means more to a player than a fan may realize.

That rowdy home crowd was a huge factor in helping the Hogs win the Nebraska series and also fueled that Game 1 wipeout of NC State.

Talent-wise, Arkansas had the overwhelming talent advantage of every opponent in the Fayetteville Regional (we didn’t have that luxury in 1990 as four of the six teams were ranked).

But as evidenced with the 1990 loss to Fordham, and the NC State series, talent alone isn’t always enough.

Especially when that edge is compromised some by losing two of your best pitchers — Peyton Paulette and Zeb Vermillion — to injury.

It seemed like the Hogs kept most of the the same mental focus and tenacity they started the season with, but ran out of bullets on offense.

This team lacked a consistent table-setter type, “a true blue middle of the order thumper,” as Arkansas baseball analyst Brian Musick put on “Razorback Sports Talk.”

“What they lacked in overwhelming numbers, they made up in depth. It was a lineup that 1-9 could get you. It’s an athletic bunch but they didn’t steal a ton of bases.”

“It was an offense that was primarily built around the big inning. Walks and homers. Crooked numbers. But you know the old adage? Good pitching beats good hitting.”

“More times than not this season, the Hogs seemed oblivious to this notion. They won close game after close game. Late rallies became their calling card.”

Winning so many games speaks to the team’s strong leadership, from the dugout with coaches like Dave Van Horn to the seniors like Casey Opitz and Kevin Kopps.

Looking back, our 1990 squad could have been stronger in that player leadership department as we headed into postseason. That team had a lot of quiet, do it on the field type leaders and that worked great, until it didn’t. 

Maybe we just assumed we would roll through that regional and take our usual spot in Omaha like it was our given right. 

Anyone that’s played knows baseball doesn’t work that way. Get a tough matchup with a hot pitcher, a little bad luck or questionable umpiring (see Perry Costello in 2012 versus South Carolina) and dreams can be dashed real quick. 

NC State got hot at the right time of the year and Arkansas cooled off after an unbelievably long run.

“It was a team that won in the fringes. That’s hard to sustain,” Musick wrote.

“You fall in love with a team that just won’t quit. But it still doesn’t mask that it’s not a great way to win a natty. Late rallies are fun. Absolutely. But it’s a tough thing to hang your hat on.”

Perhaps the Razorbacks would have won it all had Paulette and Vermillion never gotten injured, or if Brady Slavens had never twisted his ankle, or if Christian Franklin had never gotten strep.

Every year, though, bad things are going to happen.

Some degree of tough luck is impossible to avoid.

Sometimes, you simply run out of magic — and it hurts. In time, however, these players will look back at 2021 with much-deserved pride.

***

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Win or Lose, Count on Charlie Welch for Postseason Juice

Win or lose, designated hitter Charlie Welch keeps coming through in the clutch for the Arkansas baseball program.

In a Game 2 loss against NC State, he blasted his third home run in as many games, one day after helping to kickstart Arkansas’ 21-2 demolition of the Wolfpack in Game 1.

“I haven’t really changed anything, still trying to keep the same approach and hunt my pitches in certain counts,” Welch said.

“If they leave it over the plate, I feel like right now I can hit anybody. They just have to make a good pitch and they haven’t, so I guess that’s what has been going on.”

Welch is hitting nearly .400, slashing .397/.506/.841 with 24 RBIs and 8 home runs in only 63 at bats.

Without question, his most memorable at bat game last Monday night.

It’s a scene now etched in Arkansas baseball lore forever, and you likely missed the best part as it happened.

As the pandemonium of a newfound, late-game lead reached new heights in the rubber match against Nebraska, Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn and Charlie Welch both saw an opportunity. Then, they spotted each other.

Arkansas had finally took control of the do-or-die game of its draining Fayetteville Regional. Nebraska reliever Jake Bunz had no choice, facing a 2-0 count, but to deliver a dead-red strike.

So Van Horn locked eyes with Welch, and gave his reserve weapon polite permission to swing freely.

Welch reversed the course of Bunz’s next pitch with the biggest and brashest swat he’s offered yet. The three-run shot sailed over an elated — let’s not kid ourselves, relieved — Hog Pen as the Hogs fended off the Cornhuskers 6-2 Monday night at Baum-Walker Stadium.

The latest and greatest of Kevin Kopps‘ ongoing hero-anthology notwithstanding, Welch took center stage for a genuine Razorback “moment” that Arkansas baseball fans can only hope for more of in the Arkansas vs NC State rubber match tonight.

Looking at the recent past, Welch’s ascent hardly seemed likely.

But when folk heroes are born, it rarely does.

Charlie Welch’s Unconventional Path

I’ll get torched for this, I reckon, but here goes: I think one of the more gratuitously bad sports movies of all-time is “Rudy.” It is formulaic and boring, but mostly, I don’t think it’s remotely unique.

Every college program has its Rudy. We gravitate naturally to the backups, the lightly- or non-recruited ones, because their stories are often so relatable.

Charlie Welch is this charmed 2021 Arkansas baseball team’s Everyman. He is a solidly and unspectacularly built six-foot, 200-pound guy who embodies the sports-ism, “circuitous route.”

Welch’s catching prep career in St. Petersburg, Florida attracted cross-country attention. He spent his freshman year toiling at perennial West Coast baseball stronghold Pepperdine, well over 2,500 miles from home.

Perhaps the distance weighed on him. In 24 starts for a pedestrian Waves team, Welch notched only five extra-base hits, including a grand slam in his first collegiate at-bat. He hit only .211 and didn’t leave the park again, and it was clear the fit wasn’t right.

Welch sought renewal by returning home for 2020 to St. Johns River State College in St. Augustine, Florida. He performed well, batting .280 with four homers and 20 runs scored in the 26 games he played for the Vikings.

Welch’s ambitions took an abrupt backseat when COVID-19 became a very real thing. Loosely paralleling Kevin Kopps’ saga, Welch’s mercurial tale could’ve ended in frustration a little over a year ago.

Instead, Welch simply plugged away through the summer, hitting well over .300 in a Texas league steeped in amateur talent. Arkansas needed Casey Opitz insurance and a potential power source off the bench.

Dave Van Horn took notice.

Hog Folk Heroes Find Their Place

Rather than bemoan the relative scarcity of his appearances, Welch is capitalizing on them.

In the process, he’s made personal and program memories — fittingly, for a Pepperdine transfer — in waves.

“I knew coming in, I was going to have to fight for playing time,” Welch said in an interview after his two-run walkoff double against Florida catapulted Arkansas to the outright SEC title. “I just have to be ready for my opportunity. If they call my name, I’m ready to rock.”

That attitude explains how “Charlie Welch” trended wildly across Arkansas social media last Monday night.

Likewise, in 1978, had the Twitterverse existed, “Roland Sales” would have gotten all kinds of mileage.

Sales, older Hog fans will recall, keyed the Hogs’ 1978 Orange Bowl upset of No. 2 Oklahoma when he spelled suspended tailback Ben Cowins. Lou Holtz (in)famously finished off his first season as Frank Broyles’ successor controversially when a sexual assault allegation involving Cowins, Michael Forrest, and Donny Bobo forced him to act amid player protests and political tempest.

Oklahoma’s projected odds of winning the game, and by extension the national championship, grew so lopsided that oddsmakers nearly pulled it.

Roland Sales didn’t seem to care. He erupted for a 205-yard, two-touchdown performance on the ground, and the Hogs’ defense overwhelmed the Billy Sims-led Sooners, 31-6.

That output also represented one-sixth of Sales’ career production at Arkansas. He had a fine 1979 season and was selected in the 11th round of the NFL Draft, but never played a down in the league.

A similar dynamic has played out on the Arkansas basketball side of things.

U.S. Reed, Mike Qualls, Charles Balentine, and most notably, Scotty Thurman didn’t play a minute of NBA regular-season basketball. Arkansas fans, however, know exactly who they are.

Brady Toops: Arkansas Baseball Folk Hero

Just over 17 years ago, Razorback Brady Toops hit likely the most famous grand slam in Arkansas baseball history — a walk off home run that prevented Arkansas from getting eliminated in a Fayetteville regional against Wichita State:

Since then, Toops has had quite a career outside of baseball, going into the Nashville music industry, starring on “The Bachelorette” and founded a company focused on personal development called “Soul Games” after he says he hit rock bottom a few years ago.

Through it all, Toops has remained an Arkansas baseball fan.

He made sure to watch Welch work his magic against Nebraska:

“I wasn’t there, but to see the energy in that stadium and even to hear the noise when that ball was hit, it took me back to 2004, took me back to the grand slam,” Toops told HawgBeat’s Andrew Hutchinson.

“It definitely reminded me of 2004 as far as Hog fans expecting a big moment – a big moment in a big game.

“I think the similarities of it was just the build up and the electricity and then the payoff when you see the ball go over the fence. It’s those kind of moments that have electrified Hog fans and I think, ultimately, has really been a huge part of building the University of Arkansas program since its inception.”

Charlie Welch Squeezes the Most Out of His Chance

The great news for Welch is that the ride continues.

While Sales’ heroics ended a season, but Welch’s longball made sure Arkansas baseball’s breakthrough 2021 campaign didn’t meet an unpalatable end.

Perhaps Welch’s next grand chapter is written tonight. Van Horn certainly won’t deny his soft-spoken junior the chance, given the results to date and Welch’s absolute eagerness to seize the moment.

“(Welch) was there and ready to go,” Van Horn said of Welch’s signature shot. “He laid off a bad pitch and you saw what he did to that next pitch.”

“He hit it as hard as you can hit it.”

***

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Arkansas’ Loss to NC State is More on Shoulders of Dave Van Horn than Ryan Costieu

Dave Van Horn

On Friday night, the No. 16 NC State Wolfpack were embarrassed by No. 1 seed Arkansas baseball team to begin the Super Regional round in Fayetteville.

Arkansas smashed four home runs to take Game 1 by the score of 21-2.

“I don’t think it was an embarrassing loss,” NC State coach Elliott Avent said afterward.

“Obviously, the score was lopsided. But when you’re [still] playing with 240 teams sent home, there’s nothing embarrassing about that.”

On Saturday afternoon, NC State returned the favor, hitting three homers in what proved to be a pivotal fourth inning to go up 5-2. Although Arkansas made a push to close the gap in the seventh inning, NC State ultimately held on to win 6-5.

This sets up a do-or-die Game 3 at 5 p.m. today in which Arkansas’ extraordinary relief pitcher Kevin Kopps will make his first start of the season (more on that below).

“This is the most impressive group I think I’ve ever had,” Avent said.

“This team, they understand who they are. Yesterday, nobody wants to get beat by that margin, but they knew how we got to this point.”

Dave Van Horn added: They did a great job.”

In Game 1, “they were throwing pitchers in who they weren’t really planning on using here. We took advantage of that, got some hits, a lot of things, they walked a lot of us.”

But “we knew today was going to be tough, they would throw their guys at us. When they got ahead of us it got real tough.”

While NC State played a great game, especially its stars like Jose Torres, Sam Highfill and Evan Justice, part of the blame for this loss has to fall at the feet of Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn.

Dave Van Horn and Ryan Costieu

It’s easy to make Razorback relief pitcher Ryan Costieu a scapegoat for giving up four runs on three hits in a four-batter span in the fourth inning of Arkansas vs NC State Game 2.

But there was no good reason for Costieu to be in there for that long in the first place.

Dave Van Horn, the reigning SEC Coach of the Year, has a famously short leash when it comes to tolerating mistakes from his pitchers.

Yet he didn’t pull it when doing so could have saved a run, which ultimately proved to be the difference in the game.

It is curious that Van Horn left him in the game following two home runs, after yanking starter Lael Lockhart before he had allowed a run. Costieu probably should have been removed after the first home run, and definitely after the second one. 

Lockhart pitched well in the first two innings, allowing a lone base runner on a walk. Then, in the third inning, Lockhart was pulled following two singles and a sac-bunt.

Costeiu looked sharp in the 3rd inning. He got the first batter to groundout to second base and ended the inning on a backwards K. 

“(Lockhart was) just behind most all the hitters,” Dave Van Horn said. “He was behind. Really wasn’t landing things. When he’s on, he can spot it up pretty good. He did throw a few baseballs in on the righties and we’re thinking, ‘OK, we’re going to be OK.’ They were just ahead in the count.”

In the 4th inning, location was Costeiu’s enemy. He allowed a hard hit single to lead off the inning, followed by back-to-back home runs. The first home run was a good piece of hitting — shortstop Jose Torres went down and pulled a low and away curveball just over the glove of a leaping Wallace in left. The home run visibly rattled Costeiu, as he appeared upset following the pitch. 

“I think a couple of those, at least one, wasn’t a bad pitch,” Van Horn said.

“The first one was kind of down and away. He just went and got it, hit it out of the park. (He) missed some spots. Give them a lot of credit too, they fouled off a lot of pitches and finally got something they could handle. It was really hard to tell from the side, exactly where those pitches were located. They did a good job getting to them.” 

The second home run was an 81-mph change up right down the middle to catcher Luca Tresh, his 15th of the season. The third home run was a belt-high 89 mph fastball on the outer half of the plate to third baseman Vojtech Mensik, the worst hitter in the NC State lineup. 

Caden Monke came in to relieve Costeiu, and retired the next two batters quickly. The lanky lefty punched out three in 1 2/3 frames of relief work in the middle innings.

Arkansas Baseball Makes a Run

Trailing 6-2 in the top of the seventh, Arkansas showed signs of life with a three-run outburst.

Brady Slavens, who had a two-hit day in the losing effort, connected on his 14th home run of the year to cut the deficit to three before Casey Opitz reached on a two-out error, which brought home another run.

Afterward, Van Horn said it was good to see Slavens recapture some of his swing as he recovers from an ankle injury in late May.

“We need him to drive in some runs for us,” Van Horn said.

“He fouled off a pitcher or two and then he got one out over the plate, he hit it out of the park opposite field which is really good to see. I think his zone awareness is a little bit off right now for missing all those games but hopefully he’s getting better with that.”

“It was really good to see him hit that ball.”

Jalen Battles then laced a two-out single up the middle, scoring Cullen Smith from second to make it a one-run game at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Kevin Kopps entered the ballgame to start the bottom of the seventh and twirled two scoreless innings with two strikeouts. For once, the Hogs could not capitalize on the momentum and went down quietly in the final two frames to seal their fate.

Along with Kopps, who lowered his season ERA to a nation-best 0.66 in 81 2/3 innings pitched on the year.

One of the bright spots of the game was Charlie Welch’s two-run homerun in the second inning — his third in as many games.

The Razorbacks now lead the nation in home runs with 107.

It’s now down to a winner-take-all rubber match at 5 p.m. on Sunday to determine who will punch their ticket to the College World Series.

The game, in which Arkansas is the home team, is set to broadcast on either ESPN2 or ESPNU with Mike Morgan (play-by-play) and Todd Walker (analyst) on the call.

Arkansas is no 9-6 in Game 2s this season. The Hogs are 11-3 in Game 3s, and 5-0 following a loss.

As for who will start, Hawgbeat.com’s Andrew Hutchinson writes: “With Caleb Bolden out with arm soreness, freshman right-hander Jaxon Wiggins is the most likely option to start, but senior right-hander Zebulon Vermillion is also available.”

Lael Lockhart could also come out of the bullpen after throwing only 38 pitches.

“I would think so, for an inning or two,” Van Horn said. “I think he’s shown he can bounce back a little bit. He did it in the (SEC) Tournament.”

Kevin Kopps Will Start Game 3

Regardless, if a Razorback pitcher starts getting smacked around again, don’t expect Dave Van Horn to show any kind of patience this time around.

Especially with the ultimate closer, Kevin Kopps, waiting in the wings with everything on the line again.

In fact, on Sunday afternoon, the Arkansas baseball program announced Kopps would make his first start in a game since the 2020 game against Grand Canyon, which ended up being the Hogs’ final game of that season before the pandemic canceled all spring sports.

Kevin Kopps, who will go against NC State RHP Matt Willadsen, has a season ERA of 0.66 and 122 strikeouts on the year.

Opponents are hitting just .153 against him.

This will not be the first post season game for Kopps to start. He also started the rain game vs Missouri State in 2017.

What a Baum-Walker Stadium finale this promises to be for the best pitcher Arkansas baseball has ever seen.

Arkansas vs NC State Game 3: How to Watch

Where: Fayetteville, Arkansas

Sunday game time: 5 p.m. CT 

Online live stream:  ESPN.com/watch

Watch on TV:  ESPN2 or ESPNU. 

On DirecTV, ESPNU is channel 208. On Dish, ESPNU is channel 141.

On DirecTV, ESPN2 is channel 209. On Dish, ESPN2 is channel 143.

Online radio broadcast: TuneIn (Arkansas baseball broadcast) 

More from Dave Van Horn after Arkansas vs NC State Game 2

On NC State pitcher Ryan Highfill:


“He threw a lot of his fastballs away, he spotted it pretty good …. We swung in some high pitches, especially early on. We went out of the zone too much. We had a chance to walk a couple of times and swung at balls that were up and fouled them off.”

“Swung and missed, popped up. He just got us to swing at and it cost us.”

On Christian Franklin playing Sunday:

“He felt well enough to play today. I told him kind of exactly what we were going to do. See how the game would go and then probably could put him in middle of the game.”

“I thought it’d be best if he fell his pitches off his right arm coming off the bench cold, hopefully we have a good day tomorrow.”

On how he thinks his Arkansas baseball players will respond in another Game 3:

“They usually respond, they played pretty well and they’ve been winning the series. I think it’s going to be great ball game, looking forward to it.” 

On coming close in the seventh inning of Game 2:


“A lot of times if you’re gonna score three or four runs in an inning, you gotta get a little help – whether it’s a walk, or you get hit by a pitch or an error.”

“[NC State] had a throwing error that we extended our inning and scored a run on and we got another run with a base hit. Christian took some really good swings, followed a couple of pitches straight back and you’re thinking ‘Maybe we can get a hit here and tie this up. But Justice didn’t let it happen.”

On whether Jalen Battles should have tried to throw Luca Tresh out at home in the sixth inning instead of throwing for the sure out at first (that run proved to be the difference):

The next batter, Jarrett, hit a slow grounder to short. Battles charged it and peeked at Tresh darting home before throwing to first for the force.

Some may have speculated if Battles could have gotten the out at home, but Van Horn said it was definitely the right play to go to first for the sure out – even though that run proved to be the difference in the game.

“(Battles) was moving too far to his left. He would have to throw it sidearm off balance. They were running the contact play. It wasn’t like (Tresh) waited to see where it went.

“He was moving and shuffling, and when the ball was hit, he was gone.”

“If it been hit right at (Battles), he would have been out by 10 feet, but it wasn’t.”

Arkansas vs NC State Game 1

Arkansas fell behind 1-0 before scoring 21 unanswered runs between the bottom of the second and bottom of the eighth innings. The Razorbacks put up crooked numbers in the second, third, fifth, sixth and eighth, bashing four home runs and collecting 10 extra-base hits in the process.

Robert Moore had a night to remember, swatting his first of two dingers in the bottom half of the second to erase the Hogs’ early deficit with a two-run shot to right.

His second and final homer of the evening – a three-run shot to left center in the bottom of the eighth – was his team-leading 16th of the season and broke the school record for most runs scored in postseason history.

As Expected, NC State Proving Not as Tough as Nebraska on Arkansas Baseball’s March to Omaha

Arkansas baseball

Many in the media joined me in declaring the Fayetteville Regional pairings an egregious mistake by the NCAA Baseball Tournament selection committee.

We all figured a very good team would go home too early. Turns out, Nebraska, the Big Ten champion, nearly pulled the upset on the No. 1 overall seed Arkansas baseball team. The Huskers proved they deserved their own regional and could have been a legit College World Series contender.

The Cornhuskers dominated the Hogs in Game 2 to force a deciding game in the regional Monday night and quickly grabbed a 2-0 lead in that matchup.

If Arkansas baseball didn’t have junior Kevin Kopps, who is turning in one of the greatest pitching performances in college baseball history, the Hogs would probably have needed to clear out their lockers instead of host a Super Regional series with North Carolina State.

“When I saw them pop up, I thought, “Why are they sending the Big Ten champion here?’ It doesn’t make any sense when you look around,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn told the media following Arkansas’ 6-2 win on Monday night.

“You see some other regionals where a Power 5 is the No. 1 and they don’t have another Power 5 team in the regional, and they might have been a seven or eight seed, nine — whatever.

“I know it’s a really tough job and I get that, but Nebraska is a really good team. They kind of played a regional format for most of the season. They’ve gone on the road, stayed in hotels, played two games in a day, played two different teams, and I think that they came in here and they were a little comfortable — more comfortable than I wanted them to be.”

“Trust me, I was very much leery of that and what they could do here. I knew they have good arms. I knew it was going to be hard to get by them. I knew it was going to be hard to get by them Saturday and then [Sunday], obviously, they did a great job against us. We didn’t play very well.”

“Tonight, I knew it was going to be a dogfight, and it was.”

Arkansas vs NC State

So, no disrespect to NC State or any other team Arkansas may face if they can get to Omaha, but it looks like the Cornhuskers might have given Arkansas the best fight they will see the rest of the way.

In Game 1 of Arkansas vs NC State, the Hogs crushed the Wolfpack 21-2. Granted, the opponent has a way of bouncing back strong in Game 2 of these series, but that’s a heck of an opening statement nonetheless.

These Arkansas baseball juggernauts had already cruised through the SEC winning all of its series and the SEC Tournament.

That’s same SEC which still boasts six teams in the tournament field, mind you.

But Nebraska kept Arkansas off-balance at the plate and hitters such as Jaxon Hallmark, who has relatives in Bryant, were able to get to the Hogs pitching staff. They couldn’t get to Kopps — no one has — and that is why Arkansas more than ever looks good to win the CWS title.

What the committee did by putting Nebraska in Arkansas’ regional is ensure the Hogs are wide awake for what had seemed like a dangerous NC State team. They were 17-3 on the road this season before Friday’s wipeout and had won the Ruston Regional (Louisiana Tech) as the No. 2 seed. They upended SEC member Alabama along the way.

If Arkansas had bat flipped its way through a field full of pastries there is a chance they could be overconfident against the Wolf Pack.

That shouldn’t be the case, although human nature is to let down a slight bit in Game 2 as the winner after such a detonation. Arkansas will be ready to play. Just as they were ready to play against Nebraska. You could see that by the stellar, heads-up defensive plays the Cornhuskers made in their Game 2 win last weekend.

Arkansas didn’t take the Huskers lightly. They just came to Fayetteville determined to not go quietly.

Mission accomplished.

These last few days, Arkansas baseball hitters worked on being more patient at the plate and not swinging at bad pitches. There was refocusing at Baum-Walker Stadium that may not have happened if Arkansas hadn’t been challenged by Nebraska.

I know it caused some anxious moments for fans (Some of you need to relax a little bit and have more faith), but in the end this will be a good thing for a title run.

When NC State got up by a one run on Arkansas early in Friday’s game, it wasn’t a shock. Knocking off a team such as Nebraska early proved the Hogs are the clear-cut favorite.

“I think they have a great shot [at winning the College World Series],” said Nebraska coach Will Bolt, who was known as “Dave Van Horn Jr.” back in the day. “They haven’t lost a series all year.”

“They’ve got a lot of talent, a great coaching staff. They’ve got everything you need. They play great defense. They’re athletic and they obviously can beat you in a bunch of different ways.

“They’ve got a great team, and I’d love to see Coach (Van Horn) win his first national championship.”

***

Arkansas vs NC State: How to Watch

Where: Fayetteville, Arkansas

Saturday game time: 2 p.m. CT

Sunday game time (if necessary): 5 p.m. CT 

Online live stream:  ESPN.com/watch

Watch on TV: Friday’s game will air on ESPNU. Saturday’s game will air on ESPN2. Sunday’s game, if necessary, will air on either ESPN2 or ESPNU. 

On DirecTV, ESPNU is channel 208. On Dish, ESPNU is channel 141.

On DirecTV, ESPN2 is channel 209. On Dish, ESPN2 is channel 143.

Online radio broadcast: TuneIn (Arkansas baseball broadcast) 

***

Arkansas Baseball vs NC State Highlights

***

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Below is an excerpt of an Arkansas vs NC State preview from the analysts at D1Baseball.com:

“NC State has a clear advantage in starting pitching. I think they’re very close to actually offensively and defensively.

“So we’ve got the highest scoring team in the SCC against the highest scoring team in the ACC. I’ve said all year long, I think Arkansas has the best offensive and the best defensive team in the country, but NC State’s actually got the better fielding percentage, for what that’s worth.”

“I mean, it’s only one way to measure a team’s defense, but NC State’s third in the country in fielding. Arkansas I think is 16th.”

“So both these teams defend at an extremely high level. Arkansas has Kevin Kopps. [NC State pitcher] Evan Justice is really good. He’s not Kevin Kopps, but that’s just such a difference maker.”

“But the one thing that Arkansas doesn’t have is guys that can consistently get into the fifth or sixth inning, except for [Patrick] Wicklander.

NC State doesn’t have a deep staff. It’s five guys that they use, that’s it. But Johnston, Highfill and Wilson can get you to the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth inning.”

“And then you’ve got Justice back there and you’ve got Villaman. And that’s all they need in a short series. So the key will be can they handle that atmosphere and can they find a way to get to Kevin Kopps assuming his arm is still attached to his torso.”

Listen to more here:

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Kamani Johnson, Arkansas Basketball Player and Drake Friend, Injured Cops (Reportedly)

Kamani Johnson

Before today, one of Kamani Johnson’s most famous moments was falling asleep at a restaurant table in L.A. as a younger teen.

In the party was Johnson’s older brother Dakari, a former Kentucky basketball player, and hip hop star Drake, a Canadian who decided it was in his best business interests to “love” the Kentucky Wildcats.

Drake, as Drake does, decided to make light of the situation by getting a pic with the dozing Kamani Johnson.

The ensuing photo (see below) went viral.

Since then, however, the 6’7″ Kamani has taken on a predisposition that’s far from sleepy.

He established himself at UALR as one of the strongest, most intense rebounder in the Sun Belt Conference before joining the Arkansas basketball program this past season.

Johnson, a Brooklyn native, projected to be an important inside player for the Hogs in 2021-2022 as Justin Smith’s potential replacement one of the team’s few big men besides Connor Vanover and Jaylin Williams.

That may be in doubt now.

Arkansas Basketball’s Kamani Johnson Gets Arrested

On Wednesday, Johnson was arrested in downtown Fayetteville on a charge of disorderly conduct just before midnight.

As reported by Pig Trail Nation, the incident occurred when multiple people were fighting and blocking the roadway near Dickson Street and North School Avenue.

“Officers made contact with Johnson who was instigating and agitating the crowd. When officers attempted to separate Johnson from the crowd, he attempted to strike an officer.”

Several people attempted to escort Johnson away from the incident to avoid arrest but to no avail.

Johnson continued to move east while yelling and antagonizing the crowd and blocking the roadway.

That’s pretty troubling as it is.

Things only get worse, according to the police report, after that.

Johnson, in an attempt to separate him from the crowd, tried to strike an officer.

“He was detained and police tried to deescalate the situation,” according to Hawgbeat.com. “That initially calmed him, according to the report, but as he was escorted away from the incident, he continued yelling.”

“According to the report, he continued to block the road, antagonize others in the crowd and try to fight people while ignoring verbal commands from the police, which led to him being placed him under arrest.”

But Johnson refused to place his hands behind his back.

He held on to a nearby light pole “for stability to prevent arrest,” with his resistance resulting in injury to officers, according to the report.

Officers were eventually able to handcuff him and take him to Washington County detention center. He got out on $265 bail on Thursday morning, with a court date set for June 15.

We have been made aware of the incident involving Kamani Johnson,” Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman said in a statement.

“We are in the process of gathering more information from the proper authorities. His status with the team will be determined once we have made a thorough review of the information.”

Fighting police is pretty serious. If Johnson is kicked off the team, the Arkansas basketball program is a little deeper at the power forward position than it was a week ago.

New Razorback Trey Wade

Just this week, Musselman signed the 6’6″, 220 pound Trey Wade, a two-year starter at Wichita State after playing a season-each at UTEP and South Plains (Texas) Junior College. He appeared in 52 games with 47 starts for the Shockers and averaged 7.1 points and 5.5 rebounds for his career.

Last season, Wade averaged 6.8 points and a team-high 5.6 rebounds for WSU’s 2020-21 American Athletic Conference Championship squad that earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

“We’re very excited to welcome Trey Wade for the Arkansas Razorbacks,” Musselman said. “He brings a tremendous amount of experience, he has played in the NCAA postseason and he is very versatile.”

“He plays extremely hard on both ends of the floor and will be an excellent addition to the program.”

These are the kinds of attributes Johnson was looking forward to bringing to the team as well.

In a May interview with Zach Schumaker, he said he will “bring toughness, heart, a will to win — I’m a big winner. Versatility, rebounding, getting to the foul line.”

When Schumaker ask Johnson what single word best describes him, he had to ponder it for a couple moments.

He settled on “active,” adding “If you’re in Fayetteville, you’ll always see me somewhere doing something.”

As far as his goals as a Razorback, Johnson added he’s looking forward to winning an SEC Championship and make a deep run in March Madness. 

“Hopefully be a player they can be proud of. That’s one of my goals for sure.” 

Accuracy of Police Report and Kemani Johnson

Every summer, it seems, there are a few arrests of student-athletes.

That, of course, isn’t just at Arkansas but across the nation.

Usually, they involve intoxication and/or disorderly conduct. Arkansas baseball player Brayden Webb, for instance, was arrested in late May because he wanted some hot dogs way too badly.

Reportedly, he cut in the line at a hot dog stand on Dickson Street and after he was refused service, he pushed a table toward one of the stand’s workers and broke a mobile credit card reader slamming it to the ground.

It appears Webb was drunk.

The report states that a worker struck Webb and restrained him until police arrived, and that Webb had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech.

Webb has since rejoined the team.

Johnson, meanwhile, is alleged to have struck police officers — which does make his situation worse serious than Webb’s.

It’s important to note that Johnson didn’t appear to be some malcontent or “thug” heading into Wednesday night.

For instance, here’s an image he posted earlier that same day from an Arkansas basketball camp:

Kamani Johnson and a child

It’s possible that the police report doesn’t exactly align with what happened.

Sometimes, video released later contradicts parts of the police report.

That’s a point Arkansas basketball reporter Kevin McPherson brought up on Hogville: “In this age of on-site, real-time video from cell phones & police body-cams we often SEE something very different from what police reports detail to justify arrests, including assaulting officers.”

“My belief is police get it right MOST of the time, but certainly not 100% of the time, thus my point being that I will not to rush to judgment.”

How often do police get it wrong?

Criminologist Philip Stinson studied 10,000 officer arrest cases, involving nonfederal sworn law enforcement officers who had been charged with at least one crime from 2005 to 2014.

About 6.3% involved false reports or statements. About a quarter of those cases involving false reports or statements also involved alleged acts of police violence — and he told CNN that the problem is probably more common than the data suggests.

One reason is “noble cause corruption,” where “officers might lie in police reports to justify an action they took, whether the use of force or a questionable arrest.”

“Police are often operating under the mindset that they are keeping communities safe or getting criminals off the streets. So when they lie, the idea is that the ends justify the means — that their actions were ultimately for a good cause.”

We don’t yet know what really happened in the case of Johnson.

For now, he’s innocent until proven guilty.

As another reminder of how small Arkansas is, there’s a tie between this situation and the most popular Razorback in the world right now: pitcher Kevin Kopps.

Kopps’ roommate, Sean O’Neill, is an actual cop in the Fayetteville Police Department.

“Kopps living with a cop is kind of funny,” O’Neill said.

“Especially with his walk out the past four years being Bad Boys.”

O’Neill is a former bullpen catcher for the Hogs who first met Kevin when both were on the team in 2018. It hasn’t been reported that he was involved with the arrest of Johnson.

Check out the Kopps-O’Neill story here:

What’s up with Kemani Johnson and Drake?

In the below interview with Schumaker, Johnson tells the story of his ties to Drake through his older brother Dakari Johnson (8:30).

He says he considers Drake to be “like family.”

Other interesting parts:

28:30: On why he chose to play for Arkansas basketball

29:55: About practicing with the Razorbacks this past spring

31:24: On Devo Davis

“I think Devo’s a pro, and I think he’ll be one of the best college basketball players next year. I’ll go to war with him any day. And he knows he can go to war with me any day, too.”

32:20: On what to expect from Arkansas basketball next year 

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