FAYETTEVILLE — Kevin Kopps has had an outstanding season for Arkansas and helped them to the SEC Championship and No. 1 ranking much of the year.
Kopps has appeared in 31 games. He’s 12-0 on the year with 11 saves. In a rarity, he leads the Hogs in innings pitched despite coming out of the bullpen. He has pitched 79,2 innings, struck out 120, walked 15, allowed six runs and only 43 hits. He pitched seven innings on Monday night to help the Hogs defeat Nebraska 6-2 to advance to this weekend’s Fayetteville Super Regional. Dave Van Horn talked about his decision to bring Kopps in the third inning of that game.
“But obviously what a clutch performance by Kevin Kopps,” Van Horn said. “I mean he just kept fighting for us. I felt like he got better as the game went on. Coach would talk to him pretty much every inning, down in the tunnel they would discuss it. We thought we’d let him go to the seventh. He wouldn’t let us take him out. He had a quick inning. He comes back in the eighth and we were like, ‘OK, we’re going to take him out’ and we would probably bring (Patrick) Wicklander in for the ninth. We scored runs and Kevin said, ‘I’m going back out.’ And what an incredible, incredible college pitcher.”
Kopps threw 185 pitches during the Fayetteville Regional.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Van Horn said. “I did a little research on some of this stuff. I looked at Florida’s reliever in ’18 that had 37 appearances. I think Kevin has 31 now. Kevin has more innings, but I kind of compared him to that a little bit. The difference is that Kevin’s 24 and that individual was 21. I talked with coach about it, just making sure we’re doing the right thing. Kevin’s like, ‘You’re doing the right thing. I’m fine. Give me the ball.’ He’s got a great arm action – it’s short, quick, a strike-throwing machine. I don’t know. The kid’s a warrior. He wouldn’t let us take him out of the game. Yeah, I know that we have the final call there, but man, this is a team. They want Kevin on the mound and Kevin wants to be on the mound.”
Kopps had no intentions of coming out of the game. He wanted to pitch the ninth inning and obviously he got his wish.
“They just asked me if I’m going to good, how I’m feeling?,” Kopps said. “And I’d say, ‘Yep, I do feel good.’ I don’t know. I just felt, good excited about the game. I was ready to finish it. They trust me and I was just ready to go.”
It probably didn’t hurt that Charlie Welch hit a 3-run home run and the team scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth did it?
“That was huge,” Kopps said. “It’s relieving to score runs. Then when Charlie just blasted that ball into the seats, it really took all the momentum into our dugout and helped me settle down more.”
In 2004, Charley Boyce threw 14.1 innings and 203 pitches in two days in a regional in Fayetteville. Does Van Horn ever compare Kopps to Boyce?
“You know, this is the craziest thing, when Kevin got here, we gave him Charley Boyce’s number,” Van Horn said. “There’s you a story. And because Charley Boyce was a very intelligent right-handed pitcher. Kevin is the same way. That’s kind of what I do sometimes. I didn’t know Kevin was going to jump his velocity up in the 90s because he didn’t do it really until the last couple of years.
“But yeah, I’ve thought about it a lot, and I’ve thought about his regional a lot and how I took a little bit of crap for pitching Charley. I’d start walking down to talk to him and he’d point at me and say, ‘I’m not coming out.’ It was almost the same feeling, except Kevin is too polite to say that. He just would tell me, ‘Coach, I feel great.’ But yeah, I thought about that many a times over the last few days.”
Kopps and the Hogs will host North Carolina State in the Fayetteville Super Regional beginning Friday at 5 p.m. and televised on ESPNU.