When the dust settled at the end of the Ohio Valley League baseball regular season, only the Hoptown Hoppers and Dubois County Bombers had winning records, so it’s only fitting the two teams will battle it out during this weekend’s OVL Championship.
Hoptown and Dubois County will kick off the first OVL playoff championship series since 2015 after bad weather wiped out last season’s playoffs, and the Hoppers were declared the league champions.
Two days removed from the semifinals against Henderson, Hoptown coach Keirce Kimbel has no qualms about the way the game and the series wrapped up against the Flash. He’s more pleased with the extra off-day his team received by finishing the series in only two games.
“I feel great about it,” he said. “The two off days have been awesome. They’ve been huge for us. Guys have been tired during the summer, grinding through every game. It’s been good. It’s been good getting rest and getting your mind off baseball for a little bit.”
Kimbel’s plan of starting former Caldwell County Tiger and current Murray State Racer Luke Brown hasn’t changed.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said. “I like our chances. I know it’s probably going to be a pretty electric atmosphere at Dubois. I’m just hoping he goes in there and does what’s brought him success his last few starts. Just locating in and out with his fast ball and letting his off speed work off of that.
"I’m confident he’ll do well. I know that he’s ready to go.”
While Kimbel doesn’t have an exact plan for the next two games of the series, he has an idea and said he would play it by ear.
“I know we’ll be able to get through the weekend starting wise no problem,” he said.
One reason Kimbel is confident in his starting pitching for the final series is because he’s got OVL wins leader Dustin Berrong and Valparaiso product Jake Larson in his back pocket. Both starters won their games so far in the playoffs with Larson knocking off Muhlenberg County in the first series and Berrong beating the Flash in game one of the semifinals.
With the many young players on the roster this season, Kimbel has given them a few tips on how to deal with the pressure they would feel at Dubois County.
“Just play the game normal,” he said. “Once you get out there, the nerves, they’re kind of hard to dodge. They’re going to be there no matter what I say and all the people out in the stands, they can become a distraction but the biggest thing is, once the first pitch is over, take a deep breath because then it’s baseball as normal.
“I came in a game one time in front of 12,000 people at the JUCO World Series and I remember shaking, not even feeling like I was playing baseball, but after I threw two pitches I was fine. Just because there’s more people in the stands doesn’t mean the game changes. It’s still the same old game. Just kind of embrace the pressure. All those people out there watching us, it’s more fun to play in front of a lot of people. I think they’ll have fun with it. I think it’ll be a cool experience for those younger guys.”
Emotions were high against the Henderson Flash and while Kimbel hopes his team has a reaction to the environment around them, he doesn’t want them to have a reaction to the team across the diamond.
“I don’t think it’ll be as chippy but I do think it’s going to be very competitive,” he said. “Emotions are going to be running high because it’s the championship. It brings the excitement to the game. But I don’t think we’re going to have the same problem.”
Kimbel and the rest of the Hoptown Hoppers travel to Dubois County at 7:05 p.m. EST for game one of the OVL Championship.
REACH TYLER DIXON at 270-887-3260 or firstname.lastname@example.org.