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NCAA Super Regional Opponent Preview: Arkansas

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Meet the Razorbacks... The top ranked team in all the land

NCAA Baseball Regional - Fayetteville
Not a licensed proctologist
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Who’s the Pack playing?

Opponent: Arkansas

Mascot: Feral pigs | School Location: Fayetteville, AR | Conference: SEC

2021 Record: 49-11 (22-8, 1st West) | 2021 RPI Rank: 1

2020 Record: 11-5 (0-0, T-1st West) | 2019 RPI Rank: 47

2019 Record: 46-20 (20-10, T-1st West) | 2018 RPI Rank: 9


When? Where? How do I watch?

Location: Baum-Walker Stadium (Fayetteville, AR)

Game Time(s): Fri, Jun 11 @ 6:00pm | Sat, Jun 12 @ 3:00pm | Sun, Jun 13 @ 6:00pm (if needed)

TV: ESPNU (Friday), ESPN2 (Saturday), ESPN2 or ESPNU (Sunday)

Radio: TuneIn

Live Stats: NCAA Scoreboard


Tell me about this team

After tying for the SEC West Division regular season title in 2018 and 2019 (and 2020, too, I guess?), Arkansas finally “broke through” and stood alone the top of the SEC West this year. More impressive, they stood atop the entire conference, clearly distinguishing themselves as the best of the always-stout SEC this year, securing their third ever SEC Regular Season title. More impressive still, the Razorbacks won their first ever SEC Tournament Championship this year.

It’s been quite the special season for Arkansas. To be arguably the top team in program history for a program that boasts ten College World Series appearances is quite the feat.

Since the start of the 2002 season (and not counting the shortened 2020 season), the Razorbacks have finished outside of the RPI Top 25 all of five times, but only once outside of the Top 40. In that timespan they’ve made six trips to Omaha, including a runner-up finish in 2018.

Current head coach and 2021 SEC Coach of the Year Dave Van Horn took over in 2003 after previous successful stops at Central Missouri (won the 1994 DII National Title), Northwestern State (two Southland Conference regular season titles in three years), and Nebraska (three Big 12 regular season titles, one Big 12 tournament title, and two CWS appearances in five seasons).

Van Horn has built this Arkansas program into a consistent winner. This particular team is one he has built for success. The Razorbacks are patient at the plate, working pitchers into throwing pitches their hitters can handle, and then punishing those pitches with serious power. Arkansas is among the nation’s best in both home runs and walks. Six different players have double-digit home runs and eight players have worked more than 25 walks on the year (NC State has just three players who have done such).

Arkansas doesn’t attempt many stolen bases, but they pick their spots very well, being successful on 42 of 51 attempts this year. They know when to be aggressive, though, and are generally smart on the bases.

This is also the best fielding team the SEC has to offer, tops in their conference in team fielding percentage, and turning a ridiculous 47 double plays this year (NC State has turned 33 for comparison).

The pitching staff, as you’d expect, is another strength. Namely, the bullpen. Patrick Wicklander provides a dependable starter with ace-level upside, but the rest of the rotation took a blow when Peyton Pallette injured his elbow a just before the end of the regular season. The one weakness for this pitching staff is the lack of a #2 and a #3 starter.

Then again, that doesn’t really matter when you have a bullpen like the one the Razorbacks sport. It all starts with Kevin Kopps, the all-everything, put-it-all-on-the-line reliever. He’s as good as they come and has a rubber arm to boot. Behind Kopps are no less than six more proven and effective arms. With depth like that, all you need is one good start and then you can Johnny Wholestaff the rest of a weekend series.

To make an obvious statement heading into a series with the #1 team in the country, this is going to be the biggest test yet for NC State. This is a team with a lineup from top to bottom stacked with hitters and a pitching staff that, even if you do manage to get to one of their guys, will just keep throwing bodies at you until they find someone who can shut you down.


Who’s on the mound for these guys?

Friday: LHP Patrick Wicklander (JR)

Saturday: TBD

Sunday: TBD


Key Players:

Offense

CF Christian Franklin (JR) - .281/.425/.557, 15 2B, 2 3B, 13 HR, 54 R, 54 RBI, 43 BB, 74 K, 12 HBP, 10-13 SB. 2nd Team All-SEC in 2021 and a 2019 SEC All-Freshman team member. Ranked as the 120th best prospect for the 2021 MLB Draft, just ahead of Jose Torres (124) and Tyler McDonough (125).

2B Robert Moore (SO) - .282/.385/.541, 9 2B, 3 3B, 14 HR, 54 R, 48 RBI, 40 BB, 50 K, 6-7 SB. Big time power from a 5’9, 170 lbs frame. Second-year freshman and 2nd year as a starter. 2021 1st Team All-SEC player. Switch-hitter who is also excellent defensively. Hit .333 (5-for-15) in the regional.

RF/DH Matt Goodheart (SR) - .270/.394/.500, 6 2B, 13 HR, 41 R, 37 RBI, 37 BB, 48 K, 3-3 SB. Lefty leadoff hitter and 2021 1st Team All-SEC player. Former JUCO transfer was also a 2019 2nd Team All-SEC performer. Hit .333 (5-for-15) in the regional.

C/DH Charlie Welch (JR) - .375/.478/.750, 3 2B, 6 HR, 15 R, 18 RBI, 10 BB, 12 K. Pepperdine transfer by way of JUCO ball at St. Johns River State College. Part-time starter, but has raked when he’s been in the lineup, including a mammoth pinch-hit home run in the regional final vs Nebraska.

Pitching

RHP Kevin Kopps (rSR) - 12-0, 11 SV, 0.68 ERA, 79.2 IP, 43 H, 15 BB, 120 K. 2021 1st Team All-SEC, SEC Pitcher of the Year, 1st Team All-American, as well as the Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Year. Was a good-not-great pitcher in his career until going off the charts this year. The 6th year senior is technically not a starter, but he has the ability to go starter-length innings, as shown in the regional clincher when he went 7.0 IP of shutout baseball in relief. Threw 185 pitches in four days during the regional round last weekend. Has gone more than 1.0 IP in 23 of 31 appearances.

LHP Patrick Wicklander (JR) - 6-1, 2.17 ERA, 70.2 IP, 58 H, 22 BB, 79 K. 2021 2nd Team All-SEC. Your likely Friday starter, not just for his season accomplishments, but also because of the number of lefty bats in State’s lineup. Has only gone more than 6.0 IP in two of 12 starts this year and has yet to hit 100 pitches in an outing.

RHP Ryan Costeiu (JR) - 8-2, 0 SV, 4.03 ERA, 29.0 IP, 17 H, 15 BB, 39 K. JUCO transfer who has seemingly done the impossible: pitched better in his first year in the SEC than he did in JUCO ball. The Razorbacks’ short relief guy, never once going over 2.0 IP in an outing this year, and only even hitting that mark twice.

LHP Caden Monke (JR) - 5-1, 0 SV, 3.90 ERA, 32.1 IP, 18 H, 21 BB, 39 K. The top lefty bullpen arm for Arkansas. Was ineffective as a freshman in 2019, then showed a lot of promise last year, before coming into his own this year. As you can tell by the numbers, control is a huge issue, and he’s fallen out of favor with the coaching staff of late after issuing 7 BB over 1.2 IP across the SEC Tournament and NCAA Regional. Immediately prior to that, though, hadn’t allowed a run over 12.2 IP.

RHP Connor Noland (JR) - 1-0, 1 SV, 6.75 ERA, 13.1 IP, 14 H, 3 BB, 15 K. The numbers don’t match up, but he was one of just three relief pitchers (Costeiu and Kopps being the other two) who made multiple appearances in the regional. Was a 2019 Freshman All-American and started 20 games over his first two seasons with the Razorbacks. Missed almost two months of the season with an injury, then got smoked by LSU in his first game back, but over his last five outings: 7.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 K.

LHP Lael Lockhart (SR) - 3-3, 4.50 ERA, 56.0 IP, 49 H, 16 BB, 66 K. Grad transfer from Houston where he was a 2018 2nd Team All-AAC selection as a utility player. Started 24 games over three seasons at Houston and was a career .270/.389/.362 hitter in 651 career PA. After being the Cougars’ Friday night starter in 2020, transferred to Arkansas to have a chance at a postseason run. Has had mixed results this year, but his abilities were on full display in the SEC Tournament when he tossed 7.0 IP of 2-hit, 2-run ball versus Georgia while striking out 11. Has yet to hit 80 pitches in an outing this year.

RHP Caleb Bolden (rJR) - 2-0, 4.50 ERA, 44.0 IP, 38 H, 24 BB, 44 K. Missed the 2019 season with Tommy John Surgery, but was a 16th round pick of the Rays in 2017 coming out of high school. Had a few really rough outings, but also some very promising ones. Bounced between the weekend rotation, weekend relief, and a midweek starter role, but started three of the last five SEC series, and then started a game each in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Regional.


Quick! Fun Facts!

This will mark the first ever meeting on the diamond between Arkansas and NC State.

Arkansas is tied for 16th all-time in College World Series appearances with 10. They are one of three teams to have made each of the last two CWS (Mississippi State, Texas Tech).

The Razorbacks have 9 alums who have appeared at the MLB level in 2021: Brian Anderson (3B, MIA), Andrew Benintendi (OF, KCR), Trevor Stephan (RHP, CLE), Dallas Keuchel (LHP, CWS), Blake Parker (RHP, CLE), James McCann (C, NYM), Blake Teinen (RHP, LAD), Drew Smyly (LHP, ATL), Ryne Stanek (RHP, HOU).

In the comparison of 1st round MLB Draft picks, NC State has had 10. Arkansas has had 9.


Prediction

If you like good baseball, this is going to be an excellent series. In a way, the Super Regionals almost have more excitement than the College World Series. Of course, I’d take the ugliest, most completely boring Super Regional if it meant a trip to Omaha.

Outcome: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯