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Marquette coach Todd Hopkins (center) talks to his team during the Class 2A Benedictine University Super-Sectional. Hopkins helped the Crusaders match the school record for wins and claim the program’s first Class 2A regional and sectional titles. NewsTribune photo/Brandon LaChance
Bryce Hinkelman thinks Marquette baseball coach Todd Hopkins does one thing in particular better than anybody else.
“Coach just knows how to win,” the Crusaders’ senior catcher said. “He seems to put together a good team every year. He’s just a winner.”
In his 17 years as coach at Marquette, Hopkins has done a lot of winning.
In his tenure, Hopkins has won seven regional titles, four sectional crowns, earned a state trophy and is one victory shy of reaching 400 career wins.
“I agree with that completely because his record as girls basketball coach and baseball coach show that he knows how to win,” said Patrick Killelea, a four-year varsity player for Hopkins. “He plays the game right.”
Hopkins has built a winning culture that has turned the Crusader program into a perennial contender, and this season was no different.
This spring, Marquette finished with an area-best 31-7 record, won a Tri-County Conference championship and advanced to the super-sectional for the third time in five years.
Under Hopkins, however, such success has become common place as Marquette has never had a losing record in his tenure and has won 20 or more games 10 times in the last 12 years.
For all he did this season — and what he’s built — Hopkins is the 2014 NewsTribune Baseball Coach of the Year.
“Hop always plays the game his way and comes in with the mentality that he is going to win every single game that he coaches,” Killelea said. “And he puts you in a position to win every game.”
While it’s the first time Hopkins has claimed the honor in the award’s four-year history, by doing so he becomes the first coach to win NT Coach of the Year awards in multiple sports as he was also named the 2011-12 NewsTribune Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
“It’s very different,” Hopkins said of the two sports. “With baseball, I’m a lot more comfortable. I grew up with it and played it and have just been around it a lot more. To me, there’s a lot more that goes on in a baseball game than a basketball game. I think baseball is a lot harder to coach than basketball because in baseball I can only have my best lineup on the field once a week, whereas in basketball I can have it on every day.”
While successful, this season was far from easy for Marquette.
The Crusaders lost their two best players from last year’s team to graduation, were unable to throw sophomore ace pitcher Evan Snyder for a month and a half due to an injury and were bumped up to Class 2A despite having an enrollment of just 193 students.
“I think the best thing that happened to us was when we went to the L-P tournament (May 9-10) and got our tails knocked in the dirt three times,” Hopkins said. “Streator beat us and Teutopolis and Washington slapped us pretty good, but that tournament kind of woke up our guys.”
It refocused the squad and allowed it to finish off a TCC regular season title and then win the first 2A regional and 2A sectional in school history while also tying the program record of 31 wins.
“This group just loved to play baseball,” Hopkins said. “They play all the time. They play other sports, too, but all summer they are playing, they’re working out in the fall and on Sundays they are always out hitting or doing something. They love to play, they love the game and they love to win.”
It all stems from Hopkins, who expects to succeed despite his off-the-wall preseason proclamations.
“Hop is the same every year,” Killelea said. “He always says, ‘Oh, we’re not going to be very good’ and ‘We’ll be lucky to win five games this year,’ and it just kind of gets everyone fired up and to the mindset of ‘We want to prove him wrong.’ He does a good job of keeping everyone level-headed.”
He also does a good job of making certain everyone has fun and a memorable four years of baseball.
“I wouldn’t want to have spent my high school baseball career with anyone else,” Hinkelman said. “He had a relationship with all of us and made the four years a lot of fun. He’s just a good guy to be around, and he respects us, talks to us and helps us out if we ever need it.”
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.
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