Patrick Wicklander threw just one mistake pitch, Kevin Kopps didn’t throw any and Arkansas’ bats smoothed the way to a 6-1 win over Florida.
The Razorbacks’ win Thursday night to open the final SEC series of the season clinched at least a tie for the SEC West title with Mississippi State. The Bulldogs downed Alabama, 4-2.
Tennessee rolled over South Carolina, 10-4, to stay one game back in the overall.
For the Hogs, though, it was a complete performance, starting with Wicklander and Kopps on the mound.
“Patrick actually got off to a little bit of a slow start, but he gave us some really good innings there in the middle” Dave Van Horn said later. “Third, fourth, got through the fifth and sixth.”
Which is what Van Horn wanted. He and pitching coach Matt Hobbs discussed bringing him out on the seventh, but at 91 pitches and starting to angle for tournament time, they just shrugged and brought on Kopps to seal the deal in the opener.
Wicklander had the door closed on the Gators (giving up just three hits) and Kopps put the lock on it.
“He did a tremendous job and didn’t give up a hit,” Van Horn said about Kopps. “He tried to pitch to contact a little more tonight. He had really good stuff.”
The bats also showed up and in a big way.
“Just a tremendous job by our offense,” Van Horn said.
Freshman Cayden Wallace had a pair of homers (No. 11 and 12 on the season) and Casey Opitz did the damage. Wallace had four RBI and Opitz two.
Some of the 11,084 announced attendance (there were more than that) were still squirming going into the eighth with the Hogs holding a 3-1 lead. They’d seen things change too quickly this year.
“That eighth inning happened very fast,” Van Horn said.
With two outs, Braydon Webb slammed a 3-1 pitch for a double, then Matt Goodheart drew a walk in front of Wallace.
“They didn’t want to throw a right-hander against a lefty, it looked like,” Van Horn said.
That blew up in their face when Wallace hit a three-run homer which let most of the crowd that didn’t leave early to make noise in the ninth.
“Just a super good job by the team and look forward to coming out again tomorrow and competing,” Van Horn said about Friday’s game where the Hogs can lock down a perfect season with no series losses in the league.
That’s unheard of in the SEC, by the way.
Van Horn can Kall Kopps to lock it down, probably. He’s done it before. Kopps threw just 39 pitches Thursday night.
Van Horn will probably want to nail it down Friday if at all possible. A win there checks some regular season boxes.
But you get the idea Van Horn has a much bigger goal to accomplish with this team.