It wasn’t a storybook finish for the Minnesota State Mankato baseball team, which lost 8-2 to Tampa in Saturday’s NCAA Division II College World Series championship game.
But it could be only the beginning for righthanded pitcher Jason Hoppe.
In the opener of the series, Hoppe set an NCAA single-season record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched, settling in at 55 ⅓ before he finally yielded a run. At the start of the streak, nobody — not even Hoppe — was keeping track. By the end, it seemed as if everyone was.
“I probably wasn’t aware of it the first 30 innings,” Hoppe said Sunday, reflecting on his season and his team’s success. “But the last 25 I was aware. Most prominently was the last start. People were all over it on Facebook and Twitter.”
Hoppe, a 6-1 junior from Sauk Rapids, Minn., hardly seemed like the type who someday might hold that record when he was coming out of high school. He was lightly recruited until a Mavericks assistant saw him pitch at a showcase at Wayne State (Neb.) College. Minnesota State extended an invitation to come throw a bullpen session back in Mankato the next day.
“I hopped back in the car and came up to Mankato,” Hoppe said. “As soon as I saw the campus and met the coaches, in a matter of two days I knew this was where I wanted to be.”
At Minnesota State, Hoppe steadily progressed, adding velocity to a fastball that now touches 92 miles per hour and routinely sits between 88 and 90, he said. He also developed a rapport with co-ace Harvey Martin, a Mavericks senior and NCBWA National Pitcher of the Year.
“We play catch together every day,” Hoppe said. “We love to push each other every day, and we have the ultimate goal to throw a baseball and play in the big leagues the rest of our lives.”
That’s where Hoppe’s story goes back from spotlight to underdog. Hoppe turns 21 next week, and there would be no greater present than being chosen in the major league draft, which starts Thursday.
“I haven’t heard a lot from scouts. … I’m just trying to give myself a shot,” said Hoppe, who plans to play this summer for the St. Cloud Rox of the Northwoods League. “Even if I don’t get drafted, I did everything I could to give myself a shot. If it doesn’t happen this year, next year I’ll be able to put on a couple of pounds again and maybe add some more velocity. A year’s time can do a lot for a pitcher and player.”
As can 55-plus scoreless innings.