June 16, 2021
The OmaHogs, as they are affectionately known by the faithful, started the season with a weekend sweep over three top ten ranked teams from Texas and never looked back. They continued to sweep rival Arkansas nines and then headed for the SEC, where they won ten straight weekend series and were crowned the regular season champion. The next week they took home the tournament championship. After being ranked #1 for 75% of the season, they entered the Regionals as a #1 seed and consensus overall #1. While they rolled through their first two games, their starting pitching looked shaky, including a loss to Nebraska in their third game before winning the elimination game and retaining their series sweeps. Kevin Kopps was a bright spot at relief, solidifying the victory with a seven inning, 90 pitch victory (12-0, 11 saves). Kopps threw 185 pitches in three days in his three relief appearances. There appeared to be a chink in the armor.
Garth Brooks sings the song, “Papa Loves Mama” about a wayward wife getting surprised by her husband. One of the lines says, “It was bound to happen and last night it did.” That is how I felt about the Arkansas Men’s Baseball team last weekend. The OmaHogs continued their dominance in the first game blowing out NC State 21-2, including two grand slams. Then they lost a close one 6-5 with Kopps sitting the bench. That set up the final. Kopps, the SEC Pitcher of the Year who only allowed six runs in 81 2/3 innings out of the bullpen in 2021, started his first game of the season in the winner-take-all game against NC State on Sunday. Melissa and I both held our breath.
Kopps pitched a solid game but still ended up with a 3-2 loss, his first. The loss came despite an incredible effort from the right-handed senior. Kopps threw 118 pitches across 8+ innings and made just two mistakes (2 homeruns). A ninth-inning homer by NC State’s Jose Torres ended up being the deciding factor. This was Kopps first loss of the season. This was also the OmaHogs first series loss of the season. Even after this heartbreaking loss, Kopps did not forget his fans. Kopps stayed on the field for an hour after the finale signing autographs and taking pictures for Razorback fans.
Thoughts: After the OmaHogs failed to return to Omaha for the College World Series for the third straight time, Kopps could have been crushed by the loss and rushed into the locker room, but he did not. “One of the big things I think about is something Michael Jordan said about playing as hard as he can every single game because it might be someone’s one and only game”, Kopps said in his postgame interview, “I feel like it’s important to give back to the fans because they give so much to us.” While Kopps numbers are staggeringly impressive, his attitude is more so. While it is easy to be gracious in victory (at least for some), it is harder to accept defeat and remember those who stood beside you on the journey. No one is an island, even if they act like it. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.