Standout closer Kevin Kopps hadn’t started a game all season for No. 1 Arkansas, but with the Razorbacks needing a win over North Carolina State on Sunday to advance to the College World Series, Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn handed the ball to his most dominant pitcher — who’s arguably been the most dominant pitcher in all of college baseball in 2021.
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In his first start of the year, Kopps pitched eight strong innings, and the game was tied 2-2 when he took the mound to start the ninth. But on Kopps’ 118th pitch of the evening, NC State’s Jose Torres hit a solo home run to give the Wolfpack a 3-2 lead, which it would hold onto and book a berth in the CWS. Arkansas’ and Kopps’ historic seasons came to a heartbreaking end.
Jose Torres 💣
NC State takes the 3-2 lead over No. 1 Arkansas in the top of the ninth.
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) June 14, 2021
The Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year for 2021, Kopps is widely expected to also claim the Golden Spikes Award, which annually goes to the top amateur baseball player in the United States (the winner will be announced in July). This season, he threw for a program-record 0.90 ERA in 89.2 innings pitched (33 appearances with one start), and his 131 strikeouts rank third-most in Arkansas single-season history. Kopps collected 12 wins and 11 saves on the year.
That he performed so well was a pleasant surprise to many, after Kopps struggled to a 8.18 ERA in just seven appearances and 11.0 innings in 2020. In 2019, he made a team-high 30 appearances, all as a reliever, and finished with a 3.89 ERA in 41.2 innings. That followed a 2018 season he missed due to Tommy John surgery.
Kopps’ rise in 2021 helped Arkansas to a 50-13 overall record, the most wins in a season under Van Horn. Razorback pitchers totaled 567 strikeouts, a single-season program record. After winning both the SEC regular-season and tournament championships, the nation’s No. 1 team had high hopes for the NCAA Tournament.
But it came to a sudden end. Arkansas beat NC State 21-2 in their first game on Friday, but back-to-back one-run losses over the weekend ended a promising season.
Despite the tough loss, Kopps continued to show love to the fans in Arkansas, staying over an hour after the game to sign autographs. He was asked about that in his postgame press conference Sunday night.
“One of the big things I think about is I think it’s actually a quote by Michael Jordan. He’s talking about playing as hard as he can every game because it might be someone’s one and only chance to see him in person,” Kopps said. “So, maybe that’s someone’s one and only chance to come and watch a game. It’s important to give back to the fans because the give so much back to us.”
He came over to my friend's tailgate after game 1 and posed for a photo op with my kid, then signed his ball yesterday. The moment or the game period isn't too big for him. pic.twitter.com/n6elcQw3JI
— Anthony Cameron (@gatecrasher3306) June 14, 2021
One fan posted on Twitter that after the game on Friday, Kopps took a picture with his son. In the photo, Kopps wore a shirt that read “Jesus Loves You.”
Kopps also expresses his faith in Christ on social media. He has three Bible verses listed in his Twitter bio: Galatians 6:9, which highlights the importance doing good; Psalm 34:18, which speaks about how God comforts those in pain; and Luke 6:29, which emphasizes forgiveness.
Kopps also thanked God for everything he has accomplished in 2021 when speaking with the media before the SEC Tournament.
“I think God has blessed me beyond what I could’ve imagined this season,” Kopps told the media. “I don’t think I ever dreamed it would turn into something like this, but I’m very thankful for that.”
With the win, NC State advances to the College World Series, which features the final eight teams. Meanwhile, Kopps will wait to hear his name called for more postseason awards and in the upcoming MLB draft.
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