Despite a head coaching change midway through the season, the Hoptown Hoppers haven’t missed a beat and cruised into the playoffs as the top seed in the Ohio Valley League’s West Division.
Keirce Kimbel has been at the helm of the Hoppers for a few weeks after being promoted when former head coach David Weber left the team due to a bigger role with the Austin Peay baseball program.
Kimbel said when he started his new role, he was a little nervous but winning cures all and the Hoppers have done plenty of that this season as one of only two teams above .500 at season’s end.
“Right now, I feel nothing,” he said. “No nerves at all.”
Kimbel spoke to his father Wednesday and was asked the same question. He said he believes in trial by fire and he knew he was thrown into the coals this season as he didn’t ever think he would be in this position when the season started.
He said much like him, the players on the team have been thrown into the fire as well.
With injuries to several key players, the Hoppers have not only had to get used to living in a new town but new positions and new roles on the team.Kimbel said several players have grown in their roles this season especially on the mound.
He mentioned Jake Larson, who went seven innings in a recent win against the Madisonville Miners.
“He finally threw like I envisioned he would from the beginning,” Kimbel said of Larson.
The Hoppers used some different arms on the mound since clinching the top spot, while also throwing some kinks in what’s been a productive lineup for most of the season.
“This last week has been kind of a whirlwind,” Kimbel said.
He said everyday players like Reese Alexiades and a few others have carried a heavy load this season and he wanted to get them rested before the playoffs.
He even put players in positions they haven’t seen in a long time including playing Cody Cooper at shortstop this week. Cooper has been splitting catcher’s duties with Dalton Dedas this season.
“Cody Cooper had so much fun playing shortstop he couldn’t stand in,” Kimbel said.
But it wasn’t only catchers that were moved around, some positional players found themselves on the mound as well.
“I was not going to waste pitching at all,” he said. “We’re going to be fresh.”
The Hoppers are handing the ball off to their opening day starter, former Caldwell County Tiger Luke Brown, to pitch today’s first game against the Muhlenberg County Stallions.
Kimbel didn’t want to reveal all his secrets for his guys on the hill but he does have a plan should the Hoppers continue to climb the ladder in the playoffs.
Despite wanting to rest pitchers, Kimbel wanted Berrong to get the OVL record for wins on Monday as he picked up his eighth win of the season.
He said Berrong is a genuine guy who’s dealt with a tough road due to injury and Kimbel can relate.
“It’s no coincidence that a guy like Dustin broke the record,” he said.
Kimbel wasn’t able to play in summer leagues because of injury but he said guys like Berrong do it the right way.
“You make a new crop of friends,” he said of Berrong befriending the younger players on the team as the resident journeyman. “Which is what baseballs all about, I think.”
Alexiades also finished the season as one of the top offensive performers and Kimbel said while he has work to do, this summer is a big step for the Pepperdine product.
“This is shooting Reese’s confidence through the roof,” he said.
The Hoppers will start their playoff trek at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Hopkinsville High School against the Muhlenberg Stallions. The normal game time of 7 p.m. was pushed back because of the heat index.