The tense crowd at Baum-Walker Stadium watched as Arkansas’ sophomore second baseman Robert Moore strode to the batter’s box with two outs, the bases loaded and a one-run lead in the eighth inning Friday night. Georgia pitcher Collin Caldwell quickly got ahead 0-2 in the count, but all the nervous energy transformed into elation when Moore poked a 2-2 breaking ball into center field, scoring two runs and all but sealing a 3-0 victory in the series opener.
“I was able to foul off some good pitches, and I didn’t hit it hard, but I was able to stay through one,” Moore said in the postgame press conference.
Senior right-hander Kevin Kopps, April’s National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Pitcher of the Month, returned to the mound for his third inning of work in the ninth. After a monster April in which he posted a 0.81 ERA, Kopps recorded his seventh save of the season, six of which have come in outings of two or more innings.
“Kevin will probably tell you he didn’t have his best stuff by far, but it was just good enough,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said after the game.
Kopps’ gritty performance, in which he worked around five baserunners, came on the heels of junior lefty Patrick Wicklander’s second consecutive scoreless start. Wicklander tossed 5 2/3 innings before turning the ball over to junior lefty Caden Monke for the last out of the sixth. Wicklander’s nine strikeouts were a season high, and he finished his third straight start without walking a single hitter.
“Our record isn’t what it is without (Wicklander and Kopps),” Moore said. “It’s really fun to play defense behind those guys. They keep the rhythm going, they throw the ball over the plate, they trust their stuff and they portray a lot of confidence on the mound.”
As strong as the Razorback pitching was, Georgia lefty Liam Sullivan held his own with six innings of one-run ball in his first start of the year. Aside from back-to-back doubles by Moore and senior catcher Casey Opitz in the second inning, he confused Arkansas hitters all night, with 11 of his 18 outs coming on strikes.
Itching to see a new arm, the Hogs got their chance when right-hander Jack Gowen trotted out from the Georgia bullpen for the seventh. He walked the first two hitters and surrendered a bunt single to Opitz to load the bases with nobody out. After a pair of pop flies, junior center fielder Christian Franklin was thrown out trying to score on a wild pitch.
With the margin still at one run in the eighth, Kopps retired the Bulldogs in order, preserving the slim advantage. Junior pinch hitter Charlie Welch led off the home half with a single, and freshman right fielder Cayden Wallace and junior first baseman Brady Slavens followed suit to load the bases once again, eventually setting up Moore for the insurance runs.
“Good rally there in the eighth to give us a little bit of a cushion,” Van Horn said. “I feel a little fortunate that we won the ballgame, honestly. I thought Sullivan pitched an outstanding game for them.”
The Razorbacks and Bulldogs will square off again at 6 p.m. Saturday. Sophomore right-hander Peyton Pallette is the scheduled starter for Arkansas, opposite Georgia righty Jonathan Cannon. The contest will be televised on the SEC Network.