Hopf brings balance for CatsJune 17, 2021
By JIMMY LAFAKIS
JASPER — Eli Hopf digs deep into the right-handed batter’s box, plants his feet and rips the baseball into the sweltering June air. He sprints to first base in a flash, but he’s nowhere close to finishing his job.
The ball sails into a deep corner of left field. Hopf churns ahead. As he rounds second base, he yearns for another. He hits the dirt, pops up and dusts off his jersey at third base.
He’s safe. It’s a three-bagger for the Jasper senior.
Because triples require precise placement and elite execution, the hits are rare gems on the baseball diamond. Hopf checked those boxes during Saturday’s Class 4A Semi-State 4 championship game against Mount Vernon (Fortville), a contest where Jasper posted an 11-run second inning in its 17-2 run-rule.
Hopf turned on the jets for his RBI triple in the third frame. Although Jasper held a sizable 15-2 advantage when he stepped up to the plate, he did not want to rest on his laurels.
“I want to be expected to win,” Hopf said.
Hopf’s speed provides a boost at the top of Jasper’s batting order. His quickness can change the complexion of any game. The triple against the Marauders was a snapshot of his desire.
“He took advantage of it,” Jasper head coach Terry Gobert said. “He got after it. He’s one of the few guys we have that can do that.”
His agility also plays a critical role in the outfield, and Hopf has handled his duties with aplomb.
“He’s got good speed,” Gobert said. “He also has that other gear where he’s going after a ball and it doesn’t look like he’s going very hard. Then, he realizes that he needs a little more and it seems like it’s there. He’s not afraid to take chances.”
As he swipes bases and tracks down fly balls, a fun-loving smile spreads across his face.
Hopf wears several hats as Jasper’s senior center fielder. He has learned the ropes of leading vocally and by example, which are difficult skills to master.
“When I come up here, I’m usually laughing and having fun,” Hopf said. “When I start practicing, I get more serious. The competitive side comes out. At the end of the day, we’re all friends. We all like to have fun together.”
Gobert highlighted Hopf’s flexibility throughout his Jasper career. Although he originally pitched and played shortstop, he transitioned to the outfield with ease. The last line of defense became a natural fit.
“He’s pretty easygoing,” Gobert said. “The smile is important. It’s kind of his nature.”
When Jasper faced a 4-0 deficit in the Class 4A Regional 4 championship game against Center Grove, Hopf rallied his teammates together.
“He picked us all up,” Jasper senior Jobe Luebbehusen said. “He said, ‘We’re not losing. Let’s go. We’ve got to fight.’ That’s a big asset to the team. When a senior says that, everyone starts listening. He’s a big part of our team.”
Hopf’s go-ahead grand slam sparked new life for Jasper in its 7-4 victory over the Trojans. The first home run of his high school career fostered a euphoric feeling, but the hype has since subsided.
“The moment was awesome when it happened,” Hopf said. “Now, it’s kind of pushed over. We’re just focused on what’s next.”
His attention to detail has set him apart. Hopf can bunt for a base hit or lay down sacrifice bunts. His speed sets the tone for Jasper’s lineup.
“He does the little things right,” Luebbehusen said. “That’s what makes him a good player.”
Steady breathing has helped Hopf maintain a more relaxed approach at the dish. He has worked with Gobert on his mental game, and his diligence has paid dividends.
“We want to win,” Hopf said. “We want to do what’s best for everybody. But, we mainly just try to get better. The wins just come along.”
Hopf lauded Jasper’s fans for their energy throughout the tournament.
“You kind of feed off it,” he said. “It just gets you fired up even more, just knowing that you have tons of people behind your back. Just having all of those people behind your back could make you feel like you could do anything.”
He hopes to set the table for the Cats on Tuesday at Victory Field. Jasper faces Fishers for the Class 4A state championship.
“We’re just going to go up there, have fun and do our best,” Hopf said. “We know that if we do our best, it’s going to be tough to beat us.”
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