Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Fayetteville Regional Report:
Kopps named national pitcher of the month again
Arkansas reliever Kevin Kopps reacts Friday, April 2, 2021, after recording the final out of the Razorbacks' 6-5 win over Auburn at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas pitcher Kevin Kopps was named national pitcher of the month by the National College Baseball Writers Association on Monday, giving the senior a first of its kind achievement.
Kopps became the first player in the six-year history of the NCBWA monthly awards to win in back-to-back months.
The fifth-year senior from Sugar Land, Texas, had a 4-0 record and a 0.67 ERA over nine relief outings in May. He saved 4 games, worked 27 innings, allowing just 2 runs and 4 walks and striking out 34.
Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn touted Kopps as a logical choice to win the Golden Spikes Award as the best amateur player in the country.
“Kevin’s statistics are incredible,” Van Horn said. “You look at the saves, the amount of wins, how many games did he help us win, 18-20 games?
“You take Kevin Kopps off of the No. 1 ranked team in the country throughout most of the season and we’re not here, so how important was he to our team? Hugely important. If you take those factors into consideration, I think Kevin has as good a chance as anybody.”
Kopps joined a prestigious club Sunday when he earned his 10th save in a three-inning stint as No. 1 Arkansas beat No. 4 Tennessee 7-2 to win its first SEC Tournament. He joined Baylor’s Abe Woody as major college players with pitching double-doubles of 10 wins and 10 saves. Woody went 10-3 with 11 saves for the Bears in 2005.
The NCAA ERA leader with a 0.81 mark, Kopps has gone 10-0 over 28 outings while saving 10 games. He has worked 66 1/3 innings and allowed 37 hits, a .161 opponent average, 15 walks and recorded 105 strikeouts.
Kopps was named SEC Pitcher of the Year by league coaches last week.
Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said first baseman Brady Slavens would be questionable for this weekend’s regional, while the prognosis for sophomore pitcher Peyton Pallette wasn’t that good.
Van Horn made it sound as if an announcement regarding surgery for Pallette was only a matter of time.
“That’s going to be determined and usually when you’re going to miss the rest of the year there’s usually something going on in there, and I feel like that’s what the case is and they’re just trying to get some things lined out right now before we can announce it or tell you what’s up,” Van Horn said of Pallette, who left May 21’s SEC-clinching win over Florida with a right arm injury.
Slavens suffered a high ankle sprain during the Razorbacks’ 11-2 SEC Tournament-opening win over Georgia.
“Slavens is walking around without the boot today,” he said. “I would say just looking at him he’s very, very questionable for this week.”
Later Van Horn said it didn’t seem likely for Slavens to play this weekend.
“It’s going to be difficult for him to get ready between now and let’s just say Saturday to even come in and pinch hit,” he said. “So I think really what we’re looking at with Brady is … if we can get through the weekend, maybe we can have him down the road.”
Van Horn said an MRI for right-hander Zebulon Vermillion, originally thought to be on Monday, would take place today.
Arkansas played error-free baseball in Hoover, Ala., while sweeping four games en route to its first SEC Tournament championship.
Due to the flawless fielding, the Razorbacks moved ahead of Kentucky to the top of the SEC fielding rankings. Arkansas is No. 12 nationally with a .980 fielding percentage, which is on pace to break the school record of .976 set in 2017.
Two of the 11 teams with a better fielding percentage in Division I will also be at the NCAA Fayetteville Regional. Nebraska, the Big Ten champion, ranks seventh with a .982 fielding percentage. Northeastern, champion of the Colonial Athletic Association, is ninth with a .981 fielding percentage.
Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said he was not ready to announce the Razorbacks’ starting pitching plans for the regional.
The Razorbacks’ most likely starters during the postseason are left-handers Patrick Wicklander (5-1, 2.19 ERA) and Lael Lockhart (3-2, 4.18), and right-handers Caleb Bolden (2-0, 4.43) and Jaxon Wiggins (3-1, 4.71).
“As far as who we’re going to start, we need to see what’s going on with the other team,” Van Horn said. “Are they right-handed hitting? Are they left-handed? What kind of reports we get before we make a decision on who we throw.”
The Razorbacks took Monday off after sweeping four games in five days to claim their first SEC Tournament championship on Sunday.
“Just a stressful week,” Van Horn said. “Today we’re going to give them off, tell them to relax and get caught up on some rest and get organized.”
Van Horn said rain is back in the forecast for today and that the team would try to practice outside if possible, but would work out in the Fowler Center if not.
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