Pitchers and catchers have enough to do in high school baseball, so courtesy runners often take their place on the base paths.
During Monday’s Class 3A super-sectional contest at Sauget, Waterloo courtesy runners Tommy Carr and Logan Hopfinger could have maybe used a breather. The two seemed to be on base constantly during the Bulldogs’ five-inning, 11-1 romp over Effingham.
Not that they minded.
“Coach (Mark Vogel) loves people who can run,” Carr said. “He likes to use our runners every way he can, whether it be stealing bases, bunting, hitting and running, everything.”
The Bulldogs (23-12) are back in the state semifinals for the first time since beating LaGrange Park (Nazareth Academy) 6-1 for third place in 2011. They’ll take on Burbank (St. Laurence) at 10 a.m. Friday at Silver Cross Stadium in Joliet. The Vikings (33-5) play in the Chicago Catholic Conference and last appeared in the semis as a Class 4A team in 2017.
Waterloo’s arms deserve most of the credit for the team’s ability to steamroll its postseason opponents by a combined score of 35-6. Double aces Drake Downing (1.82) and Dustin Crawford (1.45) take a combined record of 18-5 into the final four. But the legs also helped the Bulldogs get there. Two of the runs the Bulldogs scored in Saturday’s 3-1 sectional championship victory over Carbondale came off sacrifice flies.
“We’ve got guys who can run,” Vogel said. “Those guys who courtesy ran (against Effingham), Tommy Carr and Logan Hopfinger, they’ve been a big part of our team at different parts of the year.”
Carr ran Monday for the pitcher, Crawford, who drew a walk in the first inning, singled in the second and fourth innings, and was hit by a pitch leading off the fifth.
Carr got a stolen base and scored two runs out of all that. That’s a nice bouquet of stats in a super-sectional game for a senior who had to settle for a reserve role.
“I started off the season playing a little bit,” Carr said. “I didn’t play my best baseball, so coach found a way to still get me playing.”
Carr had just seven hits in 36 at bats during the season, but three of those hits were doubles, one was a triple. He has also been an effective relief pitcher, logging a 1.31 ERA in 16 innings of work, with 10 walks and 22 strikeouts. The senior said he's happy to do whatever he can for his teammates.
“That’s kind of what this team is," Vogel said. "They get along with each other, they’re not selfish. If we need a courtesy runner, they’re willing to do that, even if they’re not in the starting lineup.”
Hopfinger, a promising sophomore, had a starting position on the team before a broken hand sent him to the bench. His cast came off two days before Monday’s super-sectional. He jogged to first base twice as a pinch runner for catcher Trey Kueper and scored a run in the fourth inning.
“Coach mixes it up,” Hopfinger said. “He gives a lot of people opportunities. This was actually the first time in the playoffs that Tommy and I have ran.”
Strong defense and a keen sense of teammwork have given the Bulldogs an edge since the postseason started. All of it snapped into place after Waterloo completed a difficult regular-season schedule. The Bulldogs’ last three games before regional play came against Belleville West, Alton and Edwardsville, three teams that played for regional titles in 4A.
“What we’ve done really well in this postseason that at times we didn’t do in the regular season is played really good defense,” Vogel said. “We were really up and down, especially in the middle part of the season, but our conference gets us ready to play anybody. And then we played a lot of Southwest Conference teams the last week (before regionals) and that gets us ready for stuff like this.”
Both Carr and Hopfinger were on base when Monday’s game ended. Carr was on second, Hopfinger on first when senior shortstop Josh Wittenauer belted a gapper to right field that took a hop off the warning track and over the fence for a ground rule double. Carr crossed the plate with the 11th run, providing the final margin for the mercy rule.
In that moment, it all came together for Carr, who in April accepted a smaller role for himself so the team might have a chance to do bigger things.
Now the ‘Dogs are doing it.
“We were struggling a little bit at the time and I didn’t like the decision,” Carr said of his early-season demotion. “But I see what we’re doing right now and I’m fine with it. I’m just doing everything I can to help.”