FAYETTEVILLE – Now that it’s over, University of Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn admits he was perplexed as to how the NCAA Baseball Selection Committee saw fit to send Nebraska number 19 to the Fayetteville regional.
The No.1 Razorbacks survived a thwarted offer from the Salty Cornhuskers, but were pushed to an elimination game and did not claim a lead in the championship game until a four-point rally and two outs in the eighth inning triggers a 2nd win.
The Razorbacks’ favorite seeds (49-11) head to this weekend’s home super regional against North Carolina State (33-17), starting Friday at 5 p.m. (ESPNU), with the first games between baseball programs. But only after they were taken to the wire by Nebraska, coached by Will Bolt, a former Van Horn player and protégé, who was tagged with the nickname “Little DVH” during his days in Nebraska.
“When I saw them appear, I was like, ‘Why are they sending the Big Ten champion here? “It doesn’t make sense when you look around,” Van Horn said Monday night. “You see other regional championships where a Power 5 is No.1 and they don’t have another Power 5 team in the regional, and they could have been seven or eight seeds, nine, whatever. I know it’s very hard work and I understand it, but Nebraska is a very good team.
Van Horn was referring to the No. 7 national seed from Mississippi State, who progressed in an area including Virginia Commonwealth, Campbell and Samford, and the No. 9 national seed Stanford, which hosted California- Irvine, Nevada and the state of North Dakota last weekend.
Bolt has shared his thoughts on Van Horn and the Arkansas program.
“I think they have a great shot,” Bolt said. “They haven’t lost a series all year. They have a lot of talent, a great team of coaches.
“They have everything you need. They play good defense. They are athletic and obviously they can beat you in a number of ways. They have a great team and I would love to see Coach win his first national championship.
Bolt went on to praise the condition of the Razorbacks.
“You can see what the best looks like when you come here,” he said. “One of the best stadiums in the country. Amazing atmosphere on game day. Just the way they support this team and obviously how talented Arkansas is. There’s a reason they’ve won every SEC series this year. SEC Champions, SEC Tournament Champions, we’ve seen what the best looks like.
Van Horn was very appreciative of the Huskers and the work of Bolt and his team.
“They went on the road, stayed in hotels, played two games in one day, played two different teams, and I think they came here and they were a little bit comfortable, more at home. comfortable than I wanted to, ”says Van Horn. “Believe me, I was very suspicious of that and what they could do here.”
Nebraska beat the Razorbacks 5-3 in a game to win Sunday behind left-hander Kyle Perry and super reliever Spencer Schwellenbach. The Huskers took a 2-0 lead behind southpaw Cade Povich on Monday before Arkansas began their climb towards the blast in the eighth inning.
Regional MVP Kevin Kopps pitched like he had never done before with seven innings and 90 shots to reach 185 shots in three games over the regional. Kopps (12-0, 0.68 ERA, 11 saves) now has 120 strikeouts and 15 walks in his magical season.
Kopps pitched 13 1/3 innings in the regional and allowed 6 hits, no runs, no walks and 15 strikeouts. He threw 129 shots in his 185 shots, a strike rate of 69.7%, and had two wins and one save in his three appearances.
Kopps said he gets stronger as his innings progress.
“I felt like this,” he said. “That’s usually what happens if you watch my outings. Looking at my TrackMan reports, I usually start to improve the more I get started.
The Razorbacks joining Kopps on the All-Regional squad were second baseman Robert Moore, shortstop Jalen Battles, outfielder Christian Franklin and Matt Goodheart, designated hitter Charlie Welch and pitcher Patrick Wicklander.
Arkansas will enter the super regional with 102 home runs, three behind NCAA leaders Old Dominion, whose season ended Tuesday with a 4-3 10-innings loss to Virginia in NCAA Columbia ( SC) Regional.
The Wolfpack are super hot with 17 wins in their last 21 games, including a three-game sweep at the Ruston (La.) Regional which included 8-3 and 14-7 wins over regional host Louisiana Tech.
“They’re probably one of the most attacking teams in the country and they’re hot,” Van Horn said. “We thought that’s who was going to win this regional. We all projected it.