By Joe Tischler
Special to The Free Press
MANKATO — Going into the NCAA Division II Central Region Baseball Tournament Thursday night at Franklin Rogers Park, Minnesota State pitcher Jason Hoppe had thrown three consecutive complete game shutouts and tallied 32 straight scoreless innings.
Against Missouri Southern, Hoppe continued his masterful ways tossing 10 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball as he and Lions starter Brett Abell were locked in a pitcher’s duel.
“This is the longest outing I’ve had,” said Hoppe. “I felt like I could have gone out there a little bit longer. I felt like the game was mine and I wanted it.”
Through 131 pitches, Hoppe didn’t allow a base runner to get past second base. He struck out seven Lion batters on seven hits and walked two.
“In his (Hoppe’s) last outing he threw 122 pitches and that’s something we prepare for early in the year,” said MSU head coach Matt Magers. “The way he was throwing, he was getting stronger as the game went on.”
Hoppe’s scoreless string is now at 42 2/3 innings and he realizes how amazing his stretch on the mound has been.
“Every time a runner got on base today it was like ‘keep that streak, keep it going, you deserve this,’” he said. “You’ve been working so hard for this and hopefully it will work out and it’s worked out for the last five outings.”
The Mavericks had their chances against Abell who bettered Hoppe by throwing 11 shutout innings.
In the sixth, MSU's Parker Sullivan hit a leadoff double to left and was moved to third on a sacrifice bunt from Lucas Skjefte. When Connor McCallum hit a slow dribbler to third baseman Tee Helsel, Sullivan raced for home and Helsel made an off-balance throw to the plate to get him out.
With Abell still in the game in the 11th, Nolan Johnson led off by hitting a squibbler to Helsel at third. Helsel stumbled and threw wildly past the first baseman. Johnson went to third on the two-base throwing error putting the winning run 90 feet away with no outs.
Abell struck out both Stetson Olson and Tony Vocca and then, with his 146th pitch, struck out Jon Flattery to prolong the extra-inning shutout affair.
The game remained scoreless until the 14th. Mike Eckhart was hit by a Ryan Bates pitch to lead off the frame. Flattery bunted him over to second and Scott Lindner hit a grounder to second that moved Eckhart to third with two outs.
With the defense playing back, Todd Standish laid down a bunt. Helsel came rushing in, tried to bare hand the ball, but couldn’t get a handle on it and Eckhart scored the winning run.
“Todd is one of our best bunters,” said Magers. “We’re trying to find a way to win. We noticed that the third baseman was back and Todd happened to get the job done.”
Weather permitting, MSU will play Missouri Western today at 3:30 p.m. at Franklin Rogers Park.