FAYETTEVILLE — New Jersey Institute of Technology led Arkansas 3-2 in the top of the fourth and was threatening for more.
They had jumped out to a 3-0 lead before Braydon Webb hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the third. But in the top of the fourth the Highlanders had two on and a pair of outs. Ryan Costeiu was struggling so Dave Van Horn went to Kevin Kopps early.
“Yeah, we needed to slow them down,” Van Horn said. “We needed to stop them then. They didn’t need to score any more runs. At the time, we just felt like it’s time to go. We kind of know what we’re going to get from Ryan Costeiu. I mean, we’re going to get, just about every time, four outs, maybe five, and then after that, it just gets all over the place. He drilled a guy and two on at the time, we just felt like, man, we can’t let them keep scoring on us.
“Then (Christian) Franklin came in and made a tremendous catch. I mean, he made a tremendous catch. Kevin gets ahead 0-2 and probably threw the worst pitch he’s thrown in a long time. He left it up and in and he hammered it. Franklin helped us out there by making that catch that saved at least two runs.”
Van Horn was asked if he felt Franklin was going to catch it when it came off the bat?
“When it was first hit, I thought he had it,” Van Horn said. “Then the ball for some reason from about center field toward the left field line was really carrying. The wind was blowing, but it wasn’t like it was blowing out. It was kind of blowing across. Then I didn’t think he was going to get it. Then he made an incredible play. I mean, he was stretched out as far as he could go. I’ll have to watch that again, but he was really extended. Then wouldn’t you know it, he came up and hit a home run the next inning, too. It was a big moment in the game for sure.”
But the way this team has managed to comeback time after time, when it was 3-0 did you feel you had them just where you wanted them?
“I felt like we’d still come back and win the game,” Van Horn said. “We’re down 3-0, and it could have been 5-0. Down 5-0, it gets a little bit dicey. Then you’re thinking you’ve got to bring in Kevin, and we’re going to have to ride this for four or five innings, maybe the rest of the game, to win this thing. We were prepared to do that if we had to, but thank goodness we scored seven in the fourth.
“Because they would not go away. They just kept slapping two-strike base hits the other way and laying off borderline pitches. I mean, you’ve got to give them credit. We struck them out nine times and they don’t strike out much We knew that coming into the game. And they proved it. They’ve got a good approach. They’ve got a couple guys that can hit it over your head, but they’ve got a lot of guys that just try to take what you give them and put together an inning or two. You see why they won that tournament last weekend, because they’re tough.”
Van Horn talked about getting Kopps out of the game after 2.1 innings and only 24 pitches.
“Once it went to 9-3 and we had Kevin on the mound, we’re thinking, we’ve got a six-run lead,” Van Horn said. “We can finish this game with Kevin, and we’d all be happy. But then we wouldn’t have Kevin for a while. So we had to roll the dice and say, ‘OK, he’s given us seven out. He’s thrown 24 pitches. We’ve got to get him.’
“We punched in another run, put us up 10-3. We’ve got a seven-run lead. They score two immediately, then we score two. So you know, you’re thinking, ‘OK, we’ve matched them.’ They scored three in the eighth. A little frustrating that some guys came in and didn’t do a very good job. (Heston) Tole didn’t throw very well. He gave up four hit and got two outs. Hit a guy in the back. Pitching behind in the count. Breaking ball wasn’t working real good.
“(Caden) Monke came in and got us a good out, and then, I don’t know. We didn’t want him to go too much, either. We’re thinking we’ve got to have him the next couple of days. Then (Kole) Ramage got off to slow start, but finished strong, and that was really good to see. We knew it was probably going to get a little bit crazy the way we were going to work the game. We just needed to make sure we scored at least one more run than they did.”
Arkansas will be back in action tonight at 8 p.m. when they face Nebraska. The Hogs defeated NJIT 13-8 and Nebraska topped Northeastern 8-6. NJIT and Northeastern will play an elimination game today at 2 p.m.