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2021 NCAA baseball tournament: Kevin Kopps' new role, Tennessee's wild win, more

 Chris Lee and Barry Allen   in Baseball

(Arkansas Athletics)

Here are thoughts on some of the SEC action on Friday in the 2021 NCAA baseball tournament.

Carolina's pitching depth pays dividends

Things didn't look great for South Carolina when the Gamecocks trailed Virginia, 3-1, and ace Brett Kerry was out of the game in the fourth--especially given how little Carolina hits.

But we've been more bullish on the Gamecocks than most because few teams in America have as few good arms. And watching Julian Bosnic and Daniel Lloyd retire 20 of the 25 batters they faced while allowing just one run as the Gamecocks mustered just enough offense for a 4-3 win shows you why we've believed. 

The Gamecocks have more than enough pitching to get through this, with Brannon Jordan and Thomas Farr and perhaps Kerry again. And getting in the winner's bracket makes it a lot tougher to send the Gamecocks packing.

Arkansas calls the Kopps

Kevin Kopps has played a huge role in Arkansas’ success this season. The Southeastern 14 SEC Pitcher of the Year brought 10 wins and 10 saves into the NCAA Regional. 

On Friday, Kopps was called on for a new role by head coach Dave Van Horn.

Kopps was brought in the game in the fourth inning in an effort to calm things down as New Jersey Tech scored the first three runs and led 3-2 in the fourth inning. 

Caleb Bolden, Connor Noland and Ryan Costieu allowed 10 base runners before Kopps entered the game with two outs in the fourth. 

Kopps stranded a pair of bases runners and seemed to calm not only the Razorbacks, but anxious crowd at Baum Stadium.

With their ace reliever now in the game, Arkansas’ offense breathed a sigh of relief and then put on a show scoring seven runs in the inning to take an 8-3 lead.

Christian Franklin, Cayden Wallace and Cullen Smith all homered in the inning. In all, the Razorbacks hit five home runs in the 13-8 win.

Kopps retired all seven batters he faced with one strikeout. It was his 11th win of the season. 

More importantly, Kopps only threw 24 pitches and most certainly can be used again this weekend for longer stints.

Rocky Top walk-off

Tennessee and Wright State combined for nine home runs in the Volunteers 9-8 walk-off win in the most thrilling game of the first day in the NCAA Regionals. 

Drew Gilbert launched a walk-off grand slam off Wright State right-hander Austin Cline to give the Vols a thrilling win. 

Cline, the Raiders No. 3 starter, issued a five-pitch walk to Jake Rucker before the grand slam to Gilbert. He fell to 8-2 on the year. Cline was the winning pitcher in the series-clinching win at Tennessee last season.

Wright State entered the game with a 32-12 record and rated No. 28 in the RPI, making them the toughest four-seed in the 64-team field. 

Tennessee leads the SEC with seven walk-off wins and six grand slams this season. Gilbert is responsible for two walk-off wins and two grand slams.

The nine home runs accounted for 16 of the 17 runs in the games. 

Wright State belted five home runs, including two by second baseman Tyler Black. Tennessee hit four home runs in the win. 

If you like home runs, Knoxville was the place to be on Friday. 

Tennessee, Wright State, Duke and Liberty combined for 14 home runs in two games. 

Liberty (3) and Duke (2) combined for five homers in the Flames 11-6 win. 

Liberty designated hitter Brady Gulakowski blasted a pair of three-run homers. 

Duke right fielder Peter Matt hit two home rubs as part of 4-hit game for the Blue Devils.

SEC host teams

One advantage of hosting an NCAA Regional is picking the start time for the opening round games.

Traditionally the home team has always taken the night game to ensure larger crowds and a better atmosphere.

LSU got away from that in the 1990s under Skip Bertman, often times playing the day game as opposed to the night game. 

LSU was going to have a big crowd no matter what time they played, but there were other factors involved. 

If the team won game one, it’s next game was not until Saturday night, giving the team ample rest. If they lost, the turnaround was not as quick. 

Weather also played a factor and the home team avoided playing a game past midnight if they played early.

More and more teams are choosing to play game these days. 

Of the seven SEC hosts, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi State and South Carolina all took the first time slot on Friday. 

Ole Miss, Tennessee and Vanderbilt took the night games. 

Alabama played game one against NC State in the Ruston Regional, while LSU played Gonzaga in game two in the Eugene Regional.