HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Jalen Battles and Cullen Smith homered to help regular-season champion Arkansas win its first Southeastern Conference Tournament title with a 7-2 victory over Tennessee on Sunday.
The Razorbacks (46-12) , the likely No. 1 overall national seed, had lost on all four previous trips to the tournament championship game. This time they took over after a slow start against the second-seeded Volunteers (45-16).
Arkansas’s Kevin Kopps, the SEC pitcher of the year, gave up a homer to start his outing but went the final three innings for his second save of the week and 10th of the season.
Arkansas is only the third team since the SEC expanded in 2012 to win both the regular season and tournament championships. The Razorbacks went 4-0 in Hoover.
LSU pulled the title double in 2017 and Vanderbilt in 2019 en route to the College World Series title.
The Razorbacks took over in the middle innings and beyond. Battles had a solo homer in the seventh and Smith added a two-run shot in the eighth.
That was more than enough for Kopps, who struck out three and scattered four hits. Ryan Costeiu (8-2) got the win with 1-1/3 scoreless innings of relief.
Battles went 3 for 4 with two RBIs and scored twice, earning tournament MVP honors.
It was the first time since 1995 Tennessee had played in the championship game. In fact the Volunteers hadn’t won a tournament game since 2007, but bounced back from a loss to Alabama in the opener.
The Vols’ three previous tournament titles had come consecutively from 1993-95 when the East Division and West Division had separate tournaments.
Down 1-0, Arkansas finally got to Tennessee starter Will Heflin (2-3) in the fifth, chasing him with three runs. Battles and Zack Gregory each had RBI singles and Matt Goodheart drove in the third run with a sacrifice fly.
Pete Derkay greeted Kopps with a leadoff homer in the bottom half of the seventh for the Volunteers. They weren’t able to add onto that against Kopps.