CARY, N.C.–Minnesota State-Mankato righthander Jason Hoppe admits he gets a little more nervous these days with runners in scoring position.
And that’s not just because the Mavericks are in the playoffs.
Entering Saturday’s Division II College World Series game against Grand Valley State, the junior had pitched four straight shutouts for 42 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, going 7-1, 1.14 on the season. With another nine scoreless frames in Saturday’s 2-0 MSU win, Hoppe raised that scoreless streak to 51 2/3, bringing him closer to making history.
The D-II record is 54 consecutive scoreless innings, set by SIU Edwardsville pitcher Kyle Jones in 2006.
Hoppe hasn’t allowed a run since April 7. And at this point, even he’s unsure how he’s kept teams off the board for so long.
“I couldn’t tell you,” Hoppe said. “It’s just continually doing the same stuff. Get into the pre-game routine. (Catcher Nolan Johnson) is a big factor along with the defense behind me.”
Grand Valley State first baseman Giancarlo Brugnoni was one of the few Lakers to hit the ball well off of Hoppe on Saturday. He tallied two of the team’s four hits, including a double that touched the left-field warning track.
But even he had trouble seeing the ball off of the 6-foot-1 righthander.
“He hid his pitches well,” Burgnoni said. “Every pitch he threw almost came out of a very similar arm slot. And that’s what makes him such a great pitcher. And he works low and keeps the ball away. He’s good.”
Hoppe’s performance was the highlight on a day of dominating pitching. In the first game, Northeast-10 pitcher of the year Trevor Graham blanked Shippensburg for eight innings as Franklin Pierce picked up a 1-0 win. It was the first time the D-II World Series has begun with two straight shutouts since 1987.
The Shippensburg Raiders in particular have gotten used to seeing a high level of pitching, as they faced Millersville ace Chris Murphy and matched up twice with Seton Hill’s Alex Haines in the Atlantic Regional before facing Graham on Saturday.
“Man, we’ve seen so many good pitchers in the last couple of weeks,” Shippensburg coach Matt Jones said. “And then we run into this guy. I feel like we’re in the National League right now.”
While they came away with scoreless final lines, both Hoppe and Graham faced their fair share of challenges.
In the night game, Hoppe faced back-to-back innings in the fifth and sixth in which the Lakers put a man on third with less than two outs. In both cases, Hoppe was able to dance out of trouble.
In the first game, Graham faced a pivotal bases-loaded, no-outs situation in the fifth inning. But he attacked with a swing-and-miss changeup and got a lineout, strikeout and a pop out to escape the jam.
“That’s been my approach all year — go after batters,” Graham said. “It was a tough spot. I just need to shut them down and pump everyone up and maybe start the offense a little bit.”
With a combined three runs for all four teams, there were a couple of tough-luck losers Saturday as well.
Shippensburg pitcher Pat Kregeloh went toe-to-toe with Graham, allowing just two hits and one run to the Ravens over 7.2 innings. Later, Grand Valley State righthander Kyle Teague was saddled with a complete-game loss, and he only allowed a single earned run.
Those kinds of results could happen often in a tournament that is loaded with strong pitching.
Minnesota State-Mankato just might be the best of the bunch, allowing only seven runs through nine games this postseason. And Hoppe might not even be the best starter on his team. He’s joined in the rotation by senior Harvey Martin, the Central Region pitcher of the year.
“It’s an absolute honor to be throwing ahead of (Martin),” Hoppe said. “He’s going to show you guys what he’s got because it’s pretty impressive.
“It was definitely a great time pitching that first game … But either way, we would’ve gotten the W today.”