FAYETTEVILLE – As of Thursday morning the College World Series in Omaha included the Texas Longhorns that Arkansas beat in the season’s second game back in February in Arlington, Texas.
It still had the Vanderbilt Commodores that Arkansas beat while winning the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. and the Mississippi State Bulldogs that the Razorbacks swept in a 3-game series in Starkville, Miss en route to winning the SEC regular-season championship.
And until their Tuesday elimination the Tennessee Volunteers that Arkansas beat twice of thrice in Knoxville, Tenn. during the SEC season and beat again during the SEC Tournament were in this year’s College World Series.
Despite going 50-13, winning the SEC regular season and SEC Tournament and Fayetteville Regional and for the bulk of the season ranking No. 1 in the nation, these 2021 Razorbacks never made it to Omaha.
“Yeah, we achieved everything we wanted to do except getting to Omaha and winning the national championship,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said.
The Hogs were denied by the North Carolina State Wolfpack. A Wolfpack team that recovered from a 1-8 ACC start to finish second in its league and included in the NCAA Regionals field, shrugged off an embarrassing 21-2 first round Super Regionals loss to the Razorbacks to win the best 2 of 3 Super Regional, 6-5 and 3-2 at Baum-Walker Stadium and end Arkansas’ season.
The Wolfpack so far in Omaha stays in the winner’s bracket unbeaten.
“It doesn’t surprise me that they’re winning up there” Van Horn said. “They just won two out of three games at Baum Stadium. It’s not scary up there compared to here, the way I look at it. I’m happy for them. We got beat by a really good team. An older team, an experienced team. They had a really good left-handed closer (Evan Justice) that didn’t give us much. But you know, really proud of this (Arkansas) team.”
Van Horn explained.
“This team was picked third or fourth in the (SEC) West by the coaches,” Van Horn said. “A few other polls we were picked second or third. We beat everybody (that they played in the SEC). We beat ‘em all. They showed up every day and played hard and tried to win. We backed it up. They did it. And it’ll be a season that I’ll never forget. 50 wins against really the toughest schedule in the country and I don’t even think it’s close. So we played great. You take away the last two games and it was an unbelievable season.”
The expanded rosters given the extra year eligibility granted throughout athletics because how the covid-19 pandemic effected the seasons, the transfer portal and the delayed until July Major League draft affecting third-year players and high school and junior college signees has much in limbo throughout college baseball.
However Van Horn knows that 2021 second-year All-SEC second baseman Robert Moore and 2021 freshman pitcher Jaxon Wiggins will expand their baseball horizons this summer.
“Wiggins is going to go with Team USA for I guess about a 17-day tour,” Van Horn said. “So is Robert Moore. Then they’ll probably go play a little bit more (summer ball) after that. Then come back. Most of our guys, they’re already out (playing summer ball) or they’re on their way to their destination. Get some at-bats, throw some innings and hopefully get better.”
Some others like pitcher Connor Noland, beset by early season injuries but coming on late in the season, likely will spend the summer lifting weights and getting well in Fayetteville.
Purely off his season, Arkansas senior pitcher Kevin Kopps has the stuff to go No. 1 in the draft.
The Dick Howser Award winner as its National Player of the Year and named National Player of the Year and National Pitcher of the Year by other awards and publications, Kopps compiled a 12-1 record, 11 saves and nationally leading 0.90 earned run average with 131 strikeouts vs. 18 walks in 89 2-3 innings.
Kopps did all that but at age 24 likely won’t go in the top couple of rounds much less first pick.
But Kopps will get drafted relatively early, Van Horn predicts.
“I think Kevin will go pretty good in the draft,” Van Horn said.
“The negative part for him, he’s 24 years old. But I think that instead of starting a guy in low-A, they’re going to start him in high-A or maybe just send him to double-A and see if he can get hitters out. I think he might go before the fifth round. But are they going to pay him what they should? Probably not because of his age.”