Regional Notebook: Kopps honored, Game 1 starting pitchers, more
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FAYETTEVILLE — Kevin Kopps picked up the first of what could be many national accolades Thursday morning.
The ace reliever was named the National Player of the Year by Collegiate Baseball, which also tabbed him a first-team All-American. It’s the first time a relief pitcher has won the award in its 38-year history.
“He has the numbers to back it up,” head coach Dave Van Horn said. “He’s so important to our team. I think they took all of that into consideration. … Talking with Lou Pavlovich Jr. at Collegiate Baseball, he just felt like it was a no-brainer and he said it wasn’t even that difficult a decision.”
Collegiate Baseball has picked someone from the SEC as its National Player of the Year four times in the past eight seasons. Two of them have been from Arkansas, with Kopps joining 2015 winner Andrew Benintendi.
That season, Benintendi also won the Golden Spikes Award and Dick Howser Trophy, the two most prestigious national awards in college baseball. Kopps is considered a strong candidate for each of those awards, as well.
The Dick Howser Trophy has already included him on its list of 41 semifinalists, along with teammates Christian Franklin and Brady Slavens, while the Golden Spikes Award will release its semifinalist list next Tuesday.
After Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello and teammate Cullen Smith argued for Kopps to win the Golden Spikes following the SEC Championship Game, Van Horn was asked about it and said his statistics are “incredible” and then made his own pitch.
“You take Kevin Kopps off of the No. 1 ranked team in the country throughout most of the season and we’re not here, so how important was he to our team? Hugely important,” Van Horn said. “If you take those factors into consideration, I think Kevin has as good a chance as anybody.”
Kopps has already been named the SEC Pitcher of the Year and is the first back-to-back recipient of the NCBWA’s Pitcher of the Month honor, which was created six years ago.
The accolades are starting to pile up for the right-hander, who currently leads all qualified Division I pitchers with a 0.81 ERA. He is also 10-0 with 10 saves, 105 strikeouts and only 15 walks in a team-high 66 1/3 innings.
Bolden to Start Game 1
Speculation has swirled about who Arkansas would start against NJIT since the game was announced Monday and Van Horn finally ended it by naming Caleb Bolden the starter.
It’s somewhat of a surprising move considering the veteran coach has usually pitched his ace to open a regional, but it’s not without precedent. Just two years ago, Van Horn held ace Isaiah Campbell for the second game and started Connor Noland in the opener.
This year, the move seems to be more matchup-driven because of how the Highlanders’ lineup is constructed.
“We’ll go with Bolden,” Van Horn said. “Mostly because their lineup is about all right-handed and we just thought it was a good matchup.”
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