Kevin Kopps hit his first batter of the season and got a strikeout, then a pitch-hitter delivered the game-winning hit and Arkansas’ 4-3 win Friday night clinched the SEC season championship.
Considering a rain delay of 1:45, that really was about the only way the Razorbacks could wrap up their first outright regular-season title.
“What an accomplishment by this team,” Dave Van Horn said later.
The Hogs got the outright title by winning after Tennessee lost to South Carolina. Kopps closed out a game where Caleb Bolden started and lasted long enough to give them a chance.
After Robert Moore homered to tie the game 3-3 in the eighth, Casey Opitz got a double to center, then ended up at third on an error.
Enter Charlie Welch, a pinch-hitter this year that is hitting something like a ridiculous .500. He took a 3-2 pitch deep into the gap in right-center that was going to score Opitz whether it was caught or not (it wasn’t).
And a raucous Baum-Walker full house of 11,084 (there were more) let loose a year full of emotions built up by cancelling last season and covid restrictions to start this year.
“We hadn’t experienced what we had tonight and last night since 2019,” Van Horn said.
Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan commented to Van Horn before the game about the strong crowd at Friday night’s game.
“I said ‘you’re probably going to get more of it tonight and probably more,'” Van Horn said. “They were.”
Arkansas clinched the series by coming back from an early three-run deficit, which is nothing really new. They’ve been down that bad a dozen times before this year.
“It seems like we were behind a lot, maybe 75 percent of the time,” Van Horn said. ‘When the other team scores first it doesn’t seem to faze us too much.”
The Razorbacks also clinched their 10th series win of the season. They haven’t lost a single SEC series, something only Vanderbilt did in 2013.
“They’re really hard to get,” Van Horn said of series wins. “So many things have to happen over a 30-game season to have that opportunity. We’ve just played really well every weekend … some better than others, but always just enough. We put together some really good ball games to clinch series.”
Winning all of them in one year is harder.
“It’s very hard to do,” Van Horn said. “You don’t expect it. You just expect that maybe one weekend’s not going to go your way. We always talk to our guys in the fall about league play and how tough it is.
“The new guys, they probably don’t believe it until they see it. The older guys try to tell them that it’s a grind and it’s hard to win.”
Van Horn is taking it just one game at a time. He’s made that clear all season and is probably going to keep it until there’s not another game to play.
“One more game and we can move on to the tournament,” he said Friday night.
You may want to have a roster handy for Saturday’s game that starts at 2 p.m. because Van Horn said there will be some new faces for that game that means basically nothing and Jaxon Wiggins will get the start.
That wasn’t the plan.
“The plan was the start [Lyle] Lockhart tomorrow,” Van Horn said. “See, I gave you some good info there.”
Then he laughed and in case you’re wondering that doesn’t happen often at one of his press conferences, especially after the middle game of an SEC series.
Don’t worry, it probably won’t last long. There’s a bigger goal for this season.
Achieving THAT goal will require another trip to Omaha, though.