Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Mistakes on mound make difference in season-ending loss
Arkansas pitcher Kevin Kopps throws during a College World Series game against Texas Tech on Monday, June 17, 2019, in Omaha, Neb.
OMAHA, Neb. — Teary-eyed and searching for answers, Kevin Kopps removed his hat and ran his left hand through his hair as he sat in his locker on Monday.
The Arkansas reliever was not the pitcher of record in the Razorbacks' season-ending 5-4 loss to Texas Tech at TD Ameritrade Park, but he was on the mound for two of the Red Raiders' biggest swings of the day, one of which came from a familiar face.
With Arkansas leading 3-2 in the fifth inning, former Razorbacks infielder Easton Murrell, slotted in the leadoff spot for the first time despite a .235 average on the season, homered to right field off Kopps to tie the game.
It was the first home run of Murrell's career.
An inning later, Texas Tech shortstop Josh Jung, the No. 8 overall pick of the Texas Rangers in this month's MLB Draft, gave the Red Raiders a one-run lead with another solo shot to right-center field. Kopps said he tried to go inside with a fastball against Jung, but instead threw it right into his barrel.
"I feel like a couple of calls didn’t go my way, then I - I don’t know. I’m not really sure. I feel like it’s easy to say after the fact, but those guys were cheating fastball a little bit, which I think most hitters do anyway," said Kopps, who'd allowed just two home runs in 28 appearances prior to Monday's outing.
"Maybe it’s on me to throw something different, or get ahead better in the count. I think if I just work ahead better in the count we win that game."
Following the game, Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn mentioned Kopps' inability to get ahead of hitters, too. He fell behind 3-0, 2-0 and 3-1 to the first three Texas Tech batters he faced, and walked the fourth on six pitches before striking out 3-hole Brian Klein on three pitches.
"You know, you have a couple really good hitters and make a mistake," Van Horn said. "A couple of really good hitters and make a mistake, and you've got to give their hitters credit. When we made a mistake they hit it, and that was the difference in the game."
When asked to put his season in perspective, Kopps, who struck out four in 2 1/3 innings, said he has a lot of work to do when he returns to Fayetteville. High on the list of to-dos is better command of his fastball.
"Once I’m able to command my fastball I won’t have any problems with anybody," he added.
Freshman right hander Connor Noland also allowed a home run in his first College World Series start that was a catalyst in the Red Raiders' comeback. Noland's slider to Cameron Warren, Texas Tech's home run leader, hung up in the zone and caught too much of the plate.
The home run traveled 420-plus feet and landed a dozen rows into the left-field bleachers.
"The kid was sitting on a pitch and we gave it to him too much," Arkansas catcher Casey Opitz said. "He did what he could. He's a big boy and he got it out of the park."
After the Razorbacks tied the game 4-4 in the eighth on second baseman Jack Kenley's long at-bat and sacrifice fly scoring Dominic Fletcher, right hander Cody Scroggins entered with a man on in the bottom half of the inning. He issued a walk to Warren with two outs and set the stage for Cody Masters' run-scoring triple off the wall in right-center field.
The star reliever in Arkansas' win in Game 3 of the Fayetteville Super Regional against Ole Miss, Scroggins took the loss in both games in Omaha. Saturday, he hit Florida State center fielder J.C. Flowers, who scored the only run of the game, with a pitch to lead off the ninth inning.
"Cody got behind," Van Horn said Monday. "(Masters' triple) was a fastball away, went out and got it and hammered it. But the problem was we were behind in the count. The run that ended up scoring to give them the lead was a walk.
"That ended up being the difference."
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