The Razorback dugout erupted as senior right-handed pitcher Kevin Kopps recorded the final out in the 4-1 Arkansas win over No. 10 TCU on Monday night at Globe Life Field. Kopps struck out five of the eight hitters he faced in the final two innings, while Arkansas hitters churned out four runs to secure a sweep at the inaugural College Baseball Showdown.
“We learned a lot about our toughness,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said in a postgame press conference. “Winning three games, that’s great. Because any win you can grab with the schedule we’re playing this year is a good thing.”
Razorback pitchers doubled down on their solid outings against Texas the night before with another two-hit performance. Senior lefty Lael Lockhart made his Razorback debut as the starting pitcher and worked into the fifth inning, just as senior Zebulon Vermillion and sophomore Peyton Pallette did in the first two contests.
Lockhart hit a batter with two outs in the second inning, and the Horned Frogs jumped out to a 1-0 lead with a pair of singles but could not muster anything after that. Lockhart, junior Evan Taylor, freshman Jaxon Wiggins, junior Ryan Costeiu and Kopps allowed just four baserunners and struck out 15 TCU hitters in a display of dominance.
“What a great job (the pitchers) have done over the last couple of days after the first day didn’t go so well,” Van Horn said. “They bounced back. They’re tough.”
The Horned Frogs kept the Arkansas offense quiet through six innings, never allowing the leadoff hitter to get on or any runner to advance to third base. Sparks began to ignite for the Hogs in the seventh when senior left fielder Braydon Webb was hit by a pitch and junior designated hitter Brady Slavens moved him into scoring position. However, things got hairy when freshman Cayden Wallace sent a line drive right at the TCU left fielder.
“Our runners couldn’t see the ball,” Van Horn said. “(Slavens) did not need to pass second base, because then he had to go back and touch the bag so he took his eyes off the ball and didn’t know where it was, didn’t realize it was on the ground…What happened was, Wallace passed Slavens at first base.”
Despite the zero on the board, the seventh inning created enough momentum for the Razorbacks to tie the game in the eighth. Junior shortstop Jalen Battles opened the frame with a base hit, and junior center fielder Christian Franklin sliced a triple to the gap to score him. Senior first baseman Cullen Smith joined the hit parade, driving in Franklin and pushing the Hogs ahead 2-1.
The Razorbacks doubled their lead in the ninth when senior catcher Casey Opitz drove a pitch to the fence to score junior designated hitter Brady Slavens. Opitz came home after a sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch, extending the lead to 4-1.
“Being able to come back in those late innings like that shows that we’re never out of it,” Franklin said. “The coaches do a good job of keeping us fired up and telling us that we’re never out of any game.”
Following the sweep, the Razorbacks jumped from No. 8 to No. 2 in the D1Baseball rankings, trailing only the Ole Miss Rebels, who left the Lone Star State with a trio of wins as well.
“The (West) division’s going to be tough, the whole (SEC) is tough,” Van Horn said. “There are some good teams here from the Big 12, and obviously it can flip from weekend to weekend, but the teams from our league played really well this weekend.”
The Diamond Hogs are scheduled to play Southeast Missouri State on Thursday in the 2021 home opener. The Redhawks and Razorbacks have four games on the slate, with the first three beginning at 3 p.m. and Sunday’s finale starting at 1 p.m. All four games can be streamed on the SEC Network+, available on WatchESPN.com.