All-Empire Small School Baseball: St. Helena’s Hoppe answers the call

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

St. Helena senior Richard Hoppe (Conner Jay / The Press Democrat)

St. Helena senior Richard Hoppe (Conner Jay / The Press Democrat)

Taking over a varsity baseball program usually brings some uncertainty, but St. Helena’s Darrell Quirici figured his pitching rotation was set, at least. Jonathon Wignall and Jimmy Figueroa had combined to win nine games and throw nearly 90 innings the previous year, and they were back to lead the Saints as seniors.

After three games, Figueroa had to undergo an emergency appendectomy. He would miss a month of baseball. In mid-April, Wignall got himself into disciplinary problems; he, too, would sit for a month.

Just like that, St. Helena’s strength had become its biggest question mark. Fortunately, Quirici had senior Richard Hoppe to throw into the breach. Already a team leader at shortstop, Hoppe was asked to become the Saints’ stopper on the mound, too. He answered so convincingly that he is our Small School Player of the Year.

“‘Player’ is the right word,” Quirici said. “He played outstanding defense, and his ERA speaks for itself. Situation after situation, he came in as a reliever, and he was awesome. Offensively, he went into every at-bat with a purpose, not just swinging.”

The numbers bear witness to Hoppe’s success. He hit .361 for the Saints, with an on-base percentage of .473, 12 steals and a team-high 22 RBIs. All of that was expected. What made Hoppe so valuable this season was his pitching. He went 6-1 with a minuscule ERA of 0.29. With a strong core of fellow seniors, St. Helena went 14-0 in the NCL I, and 20-6 overall.

“We missed him a couple games when he was visiting schools,” Quirici said. “We went 1-1, and the game we won was in extra innings.”

Lacking dominant stuff, Hoppe became a craftsman on the mound. He incorporated a knuckleball, a pitch he had fooled around with for a couple years, into his repertoire. He also learned to drop down to a sidearm motion, mixing it in with his normal release point to keep hitters off-balance.

“I knew I had a good defense behind me,” Hoppe said. “We had mostly seniors, and a few good juniors. I just had to throw strikes. And I had a good catcher (in senior Kevin Bankson). I threw curveballs, knuckleballs, sidearm, and he blocked everything I threw at him.”

Hoppe’s development did not take his coach by surprise. Quirici had worked with Hoppe for 2½ years as a varsity assistant, and before that as his Little League or Senior League coach (or opposing coach). Over time, he watched the kid’s leadership skills emerge.

“That part wasn’t his forte, but he has grown into it,” Quirici said. “The underclassmen look up to him. Every practice he’s the first one there, be it a Saturday or after school. I’m so proud of that kid and what he did.”

Hoppe’s baseball exploits capped a dream year for the senior. In the fall he was a first-team All-Empire quarterback for 11-2 St. Helena. In the winter he was the Saints’ starting point guard. Then came spring, and Hoppe once again found the ball in his hand.

“I actually have thought about it a little this summer,” Hoppe said of his banner year. “High school sports are over. My classmates had a good four years of success. We made some history.”

Hoppe is headed for Boise State, where he will play club baseball and study criminal justice. Quirici has no doubts that his shortstop will be a success.

“As a coach, I wish they made more of him,” Quirici said. “If I had one kid to go to war with on my team, that’s it.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

 ALL-EMPIRE SMALL SCHOOL BASEBALL

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Richard Hoppe, St. Helena, Sr.

FIRST TEAM
Danny Brink, 2B/SS, St. Helena, Sr.
Cole Brodnansky, C, Clear Lake, Soph.
Dean De La Montanya, C, Sonoma Academy, Sr.
Alex Neve, INF/P, St. Vincent, Jr.
Dusty Oliver, P/SS, St. Vincent, Jr.
Jake Peters, C/P, Kelseyville, Sr.
John Mark Reagan, SS, Kelseyville, Sr.
Justin Sundstrom, Util., Point Arena, Jr.
Nick Vargas, P/OF, Kelseyville, Sr.

SECOND TEAM
Joey Brink, OF, St. Helena, Sr.
Jimmy Figueroa, 3B/P, St. Helena, Sr.
Matt Hernandez, Inf./P, Fort Bragg, Sr.
Josh Lobue, 2B, Fort Bragg, Sr.
David Mansell, 2B/1B, Clear Lake, Jr.
Will Nevin, 2B/SS, St. Vincent, Soph.
George Sammon, OF/3B, St. Vincent, Soph.
Isiah Warren, P/OF, Cloverdale, Jr.
Arman Yektaparast, OF, St. Vincent, Sr.

THIRD TEAM
Juan Avalos, 2B/C, Tomales, Sr.
Jacob Brady, C/P, Tomales, Jr.
Max Cowell, 3B, St. Vincent, Jr.
Jason Hibbeln, SS/P, Cloverdale, Sr.
Brennan Potts, Util., Tomales, Sr.
Justin Soto, P, Anderson Valley, Sr.
Steve Stack, P/1B, Sonoma Academy, Jr.
Jake Tucker, 1B, Middletown, Sr.
Sam White, C, Willits, Sr.

COACH OF THE YEAR
Bill Tucker, Tomales

Comments are closed.