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.
Hogs respond well after delay
Arkansas pitcher Kevin Kopps (45) celebrates with catcher Casey Opitz following the final out of the Razorbacks' 11-5 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Starkville, Miss. (Courtesy photo via Aaron Fitt/D1Baseball.com)
Weather delays have a tendency to reset baseball games.
For Arkansas, a 1 hour, 15-minute delay Saturday served only as a pause during an 11-5 victory at Mississippi State.
The No. 2 Razorbacks attacked the No. 4 Bulldogs at the plate and on the mound with the same success over the game’s final three innings as they had for the two-plus innings that preceded the delay for rain and lightning.
Arkansas outscored Mississippi State 10-1 after the start of the fifth inning.
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The Razorbacks led 8-5 and had the bases loaded with no outs in the top of the seventh inning when lightning forced teams off the field at 4:07 p.m. A heavy rainstorm followed.
When play resumed, Cullen Smith hit a sacrifice fly and Jalen Battles beat out a throw to first base to negate a would-be double play and extend the Razorbacks’ lead to 10-5.
“We really wanted to make sure we got at least two out of that bases loaded with no outs,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said of the restart. “We had the seven, eight and nine hitters coming up, and they did a pretty decent job of getting some runs in for us.”
Arkansas made the decision to bring relief pitcher Kevin Kopps back for the bottom of the seventh inning, more than 90 minutes after he struck out the side in the bottom of the sixth.
“We’re going, ‘Wow, momentum is on our side, we’ve got a pitcher that’s rolling and now we’ve got to sit around for an hour and 20 minutes,’” Van Horn said. “Kevin stayed hot. He rode a bike and kept moving around.
“It’s really hot, really humid. It’s 80-something degrees here and it’s easy to stay loose if you want to. There was no way that he wanted to come out.”
Van Horn said the delay would have needed to last at least another hour for him to consider not bringing Kopps back. Van Horn and pitching coach Matt Hobbs were comfortable with the decision because Kopps had pitched in both games of a 2019 doubleheader at Auburn, including the 14th and 15th innings of the nightcap.
“It’s not exactly the same thing, but he’s got a little bit of experience of having to sit around and pitch again,” Van Horn said. “He’s an older guy, veteran — didn’t get fazed by it at all.”
Kopps said his previous time as a starter also helped. During those times he might stay hot for several hours at a time.
“It kind of felt like I was starting again,” Kopps said of his four-inning save. “I feel like I’ve been in any and every situation, so the experience helps a lot to stay focused.”
Kopps gave up a leadoff hit to Brad Cumbest in the seventh, but Rowdey Jordan grounded into a 4-6-3 double play in the next at-bat.
Logan Tanner reached on a two-out fielding error by Smith, the third baseman, in the eighth inning before Josh Hatcher struck out swinging to strand him.
Arkansas extended its lead to 11-5 in the top of the ninth. Smith led off with a walk and scored when Robert Moore got caught in a rundown between first and second base following a one-out single.
Kopps struck out the first two batters he faced in the bottom of the ninth. Cumbest singled with two outs and Jordan followed with a full-count walk, but both were stranded when Allen hit into a game-ending fielder’s choice.
Kopps threw 56 pitches, including 41 for strikes. He earned his second save this season and became the third Arkansas pitcher this year to earn a four-inning save.
Kopps struck out a career-high seven batters and lowered his ERA to 1.06. He has retired 35 consecutive batters without allowing a run, and he has not allowed any runs in his last six relief appearances.
"The Kopps guy, he is a heck of a pitcher," Mississippi State first baseman Tanner Allen said. "Guy does a really good job. He is kind of a guy that has a really good fastball, but he is able to throw his offspeed for a strike any time he wants to. That makes it really tough.
“He will throw a cutter in on our hands and then come back with 93 mph on the outside corner. That's really tough, man. Hat’s off to him.”
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