Mid-week break gives Arkansas fans time to enjoy being No. 1

Kevin Kopps was named Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Player of the Week and SEC Co-Pitcher of the Week after his performance against South Carolina last weekend.

Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

The No. 1 Arkansas Razorback baseball squad is in the midst of an uncommon and unplanned mid-season breather that began last Saturday and extends until their three-game series with LSU opens Friday at 6 p.m.

The game will be televised by the SEC Network. SEC Network Plus continues coverage of the series at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

The extended break from play comes from a combination of foul weather forcing a Friday double header last weekend at South Carolina, and Covid-19 issues putting the kibosh on today’s scheduled contest with Missouri State.

Next up for the No. 1 Razorbacks

Opponent: at LSU
When: 6 p.m. Friday, April 30
Where: Baton Rouge, LA
Television: SEC Network

Upcoming games

Saturday, May 1 – at LSU, SEC Network+
Sunday, May 1 – at LSU, SEC Network+

So, the Razorbacks are either enjoying or enduring an extended break in play in a season that’s on the verge of becoming a very special one for Razorback baseball.

With their series victory last weekend at South Carolina, the Hogs are a stout 32-7 on the season and 13-5 in SEC play. That has them tied atop the overall league standings with Eastern Division leader No. 2 Vanderbilt (31-7, 13-5) and two games ahead of No. 5 Mississippi State (29-10, 11-7) in the West.

There’s no doubt Hog skipper Dave Van Horn and his Razorbacks would rather be playing today than practicing, but maybe the midweek breather will make the Razorbacks all the more hungry for their date with the Bayou Bengals this weekend.

The Razorbacks, incredibly, have not lost a series yet this season playing most of the best competition in the land since the SEC programs are dominating the various college baseball rankings in which Arkansas remains a consensus No. 1 thanks to their consistency and resiliency all season.

The Razorbacks’ overall batting average of .280 and ERA of 4.08 aren’t overly impressive, but the Hogs’ capacity for playing winning baseball regardless of the circumstances is.

The Hogs have risen to the occasion time and time again. That’s a testimony to the players’ grit, toughness, and tenacity, but it’s also proof positive of how masterfully Van Horn and his staff have coached and deployed Arkansas’ considerable talent.

Van Horn and his staff constantly and consistently place and keep the Hogs in a winning position game after game and series after series.

The toughest decisions in coaching baseball has to be when to go get a pitcher or when to let him ride. Games literally turn on that decision daily. A lot of that decision has to do with who is available in your bullpen.

Van Horn may seem to have had a short leash to some at times this season, but having a well-stocked and varied bullpen allows what are often tough calls to become a bit easier.

The Hogs rarely have to live and die with a pitcher. That not only makes Van Horn’s job easier but also takes some pressure off his pitching staff. They know they aren’t alone. It’s not all on them, so they can relax and perform.

While Van Horn has many trustworthy options to call upon, Kevin Kopps is turning in an All-American-type season. Whether he’s throwing a cutter or a slider or both, I don’t know, but either way he’s flummoxed opposing hitters in a dominating fashion this season.

His two appearances against South Carolina last weekend were things of beauty. Kopps set down 12 of 15 batters he faced. He picked up his fifth save of the season last Thursday, striking out six in three perfect innings. He followed the up Friday by striking out all six batters he faced in two inning of work.

An amazing 43 of his 59 pitches last weekend were strikes. He didn’t allow a baserunner and batters whiffed at 21 of his pitches.

His dominance certainly didn’t go unnoticed as he won almost every pitching award this week he was eligible for.

Even when a team has been No. 1 as long as the Hogs have been this season, it seems like it’s natural for fans to gravitate toward concerns about what the Razorbacks could do better rather than enjoying the ride. Concerns about the starting pitching and the team batting average are common talking points.

I get it. As fans, we all focus on stuff like that because we want our teams to improve.

However, sometimes it’s OK to just enjoy being No. 1, or having a winning streak like the Hogs had in basketball in February when they went undefeated. Each game seemed so big and so stressful along the way that it was almost hard to really enjoy it and soak it in.

Until Friday, Hog baseball fans don’t have a game to worry about. We can just roll around in it and really enjoy being No. 1 the nation.

That’s a pretty cool accomplishment even for a program that has been as successful as Razorback baseball has been under Van Horn.