FAYETTEVILLE – As expected, Coach Dave Van Horn announced Thursday that Patrick Wicklander, 6-1, 2.17 earned run average, will start today’s Arkansas’ Super Regional opener at 5 p.m. on ESPNU of the Razorbacks best 2 of 3 Super Regional against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Nationally No. 1 SEC champion/SEC Tournament champion and Fayetteville Regional 49-11 Arkansas and Coach Elliott Avent’s 33-17 ACC runner-up/ACC Tournament runner-up and Ruston (La.) Regional champion Wolfpack play again at 2 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2 and if necessary at 5 p.m. Sunday on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.
The Super Regional advances among the Elite Eight to the College World Series in Omaha.
Senior reliever Zebulon Vermillion, injured during the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. and missing Arkansas’ four games winning the Fayetteville Regional last Friday through Sunday at Baum, is back on the active roster, Van Horn said.
Vermillion rejoins a pitching staff that relied on senior reliever Kevin Kopps, 12-0, 11 saves and a 0.68 ERA, to either win or save the 13-8 Fayetteville Regional victory over the New Jersey Institute of Technology and 5-1 and 6-2 Fayetteville Regional victories over Big Ten champion Nebraska.
The one Fayetteville Regional game that Kopps was rested, Arkansas lost, 5-3 to Nebraska.
Wicklander, the 5-1 winner over Nebraska, logged the only start that Kopps or others didn’t relieve by the third to fifth inning.
Van Horn would like at least five strong innings from Wicklander but obviously will use Kopps early if needed which last Sunday was from the third inning through the game’s finish.
“From what I’ve been told his arm is feeling great” Van Horn said. “He says he’s feeling great.”
Though known for their comebacks, it seems the Hogs can ill afford to fall far behind Reid Johnston, the Wolfpack’s 8-2 Friday starter.
“We’re facing a really good pitcher tomorrow who throws a lot of strikes and moves the ball around, has a lot of movement,” Van Horn said.
Johnston shut out Alabama during his innings winning at the Ruston Regional before the Wolfpack swept two straight from host Louisiana Tech.
“They (Alabama) hit a lot of weak ground balls to the right side,” Van Horn said. “We’ve got to have a good approach agains him.”
And hit more than they did for most of their three games against Nebraska.
“We’re going to have to swing the bats a lot better the next couple of days if we’re going to win this series,” Van Horn said.
The Razorbacks have been renowned as a comeback team but this Wolfpack also could be called the “Comeback Kids.”
“Last weekend in the championship game against Louisiana Tech, they found themselves down 4-0, and they didn’t blink,” Van Horn said. “They came back and won that game going away 14-7.”
A bigger comeback was finishing second in the ACC after a 1-8 league start.
“It was a really rough start for us,” Terrell Tatum, NC State’s All-ACC designated hitter and son of 1982-85 Razorbacks football running back Terry Tatum, said. “But I felt like we really stuck together as a team and wanted to push each other.
We all inside knew how good we were, and just knew it was going to take time for us to make sure that we could get there.”
The Wolfpack literally ran itself back into the running stealing 70 of 86 bases as a team while also flexing 83 home runs and as a team hitting .291.
“Up and down the lineup, they’re a threat,” Van Horn said. “They’re going to be a threat every inning. They’ve got a few guys that can run. If they get a chance to steal bases, they will.”
When in a groove, Arkansas, 102 home runs, has plenty of heavy hitters but the team batting average after the Fayetteville Regional dipped to .269.
Kopps fills many holes but doesn’t fill them alone, Wolfpack Coach Avent surmises.
““What he has done is unbelievable and amazing,” Avent said.
“But what you can’t do is look at a ballclub that you are going to play in the postseason and look one player. They have a great ball club, a lot of good pitchers. This isn’t just going to be against Kevin Kopps, it is going to be a great Arkansas team.”