The No. 1 Arkansas Razorbacks won the opening game of the Fayetteville regional versus the New Jersey Institute of Technology in 13-8 slugfest on Friday. Despite using seven different pitchers during the game, the Hogs were able to collect 13 hits and five home runs to take the lead and hold on against a scrappy NJIT side who was playing in their first NCAA tournament.
Arkansas fell behind 3-0 after three innings and three different pitchers. However, an early appearance by Kevin Kopps helped to settle the game, and the Hogs would score 10 straight runs to take control as they managed to keep the Highlanders at arm’s length for the remainder of the day. The Hogs now await the winner of Nebraska vs Northeastern later tonight.
The starting pitcher had been the subject of speculation going into the regional, and Dave Van Horn opted to go with Caleb Bolden. The right-hander was chosen since most of NJIT’s lineup is right-handed, and Bolden had held down the fort admirably in his last outing against Ole Miss in the SEC tournament. Van Horn chose him over ace Patrick Wicklander who is Arkansas’s one guarantee on the mound.
Bolden wouldn’t last long, however. He struggled in only 1.1 innings pitched by giving up an opening home run and allowing several NJIT players to get on base. Connor Noland would be brought in, but a ground ball to Jalen Battles would sneak under his glove, scoring a second run for NJIT. Noland would commit an error of his own in the third, resulting in a bases-loaded jam, and DVH went to his bullpen again. This time it was Ryan Costeiu.
Another run would be brought in after Costeiu issued a walk, and NJIT had stunned the fans inside Baum-Walker with a 3-0 lead in the third. It was a dream start for the 64th team in the tournament as nerves appeared to get the best of the No. 1 team in the nation early.
However, the Hogs began to show signs of life. After Battles reached first, prodigal son Braydon Webb hit a two-run homer to pull Arkansas within one by keeping his hands inside to keep the ball fair, and the Razorback faithful packed inside the stadium were ignited.
Meanwhile, DVH decided it was time to call the Kopps, and the national player of the year entered the game in the fourth. It was an early cameo when many did not even anticipate him appearing at all, but despite the opponent, game one of the regional is too important to take any risks as no one in the country is more reliable than the “Sheriff.” Luckily, he would receive some help from Christian Franklin who made a trademark web gem on a deep fly ball to center field.
We don’t deserve Christian Franklin.— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) June 4, 2021
He did this to end the frame + save runs.
Then tied it with a solo homer leading off the bottom of the inning
Top 50 draft prospect: https://t.co/18ugc09Hdjpic.twitter.com/83T1Kx0HUI
He probably saved two more runs with that catch.
This was the turning point as Franklin followed it up with a solo home run on an off-speed pitch to lead off the bottom of the fourth to tie the game 3-3. It was his 13th homer of the season which is tied for the team lead. Franklin would finish with three hits on the day.
The Hogs were just getting started though.
They would load the bases, and NJIT starting pitcher Tyler Stafflinger’s day would be done. The next man up would walk Webb to gift the Razorbacks the lead, and following a sacrifice fly by Matt Goodheart, Arkansas was up 5-3. Cayden Wallace broke the game wide open on the next at-bat by smashing a three-run homer, and the rout appeared to be on. Cullen Smith would hit his 10th home run of the season over the left-field fence, and just like that, the Hogs exploded with nine unanswered for a 9-3 lead after four innings.
Got it rocking real quick ⚡ pic.twitter.com/zbCB4SBFuL— Arkansas Baseball (@RazorbackBSB) June 4, 2021
Battles would tack on another with a solo shot in the fifth by blasting Arkansas’s fifth home run of the game and the 98th homer of the season.
With a comfortable lead, Kopps was retired after two innings and only 24 pitches. He gave up zero hits, zero runs, and zero walks.
Heston Tole came in, but he would allow the bases to be loaded, and two more runs would score.
The Hogs would get two back after Jacob Nesbit delivered with a bases-loaded single to extend the lead to 12-5. Nesbit was 0-for-16 prior to what would be his only plate appearance of the game.
Still, NJIT never completely went away, especially when Kopps was not on the mound. With Kole Ramage in for Arkansas, they scored three more runs in the eighth. In total, the Razorbacks used seven different pitchers with none who lasted more than basically two innings.
Franklin would score the game’s final run on a wild pitch, and the Hogs won the first game of the regional 13-8.
Kopps got the win. Arkansas is now 47-10 overall.
Up next, the Hogs take on either Nebraska or Northeastern on Saturday with the game scheduled for 8 pm.