Todd Hopkins has had a lot to be thankful or happy for as the Marquette baseball coach over the years.
In 22 seasons, Hopkins has been to the IHSA State Tournament three times, won six sectional titles and 11 regional plaques.
However, winning the Class 1A state championship trophy on Saturday in Peoria with a 14-5 victory over Gibault Catholic is at the top of his career defining moments.
“I’m just so happy for the school and for our players,” said Hopkins, who has also coached the Crusaders boys basketball team for the last 3 1/2 years after leading the girls for 17 seasons. “We had fans who have been around for 50-60 years bawling like little kids on Saturday. It was really neat to see.
“It was pretty crazy. A lot of things go through your head at that moment. There is joy. Joy for the kids, for the families of the players and the Marquette fans. My kids (daughter Hunter, sons Tate and Ty), my wife (Katie) and my mom (Nancy) and dad (Phil) were there. It was nice to be able to share it with them. My sophomore baseball coach Ed Schwingle and I locked eyes at the semifinal game. I climbed the fence to shake his hand. It was real cool to see him have a Marquette hat on.”
The Crusaders accomplishment is the first state team title won by a program from Marquette and the city of Ottawa.
Hopkins and his club went 33-1 this year, but the drive to the top began a year ago when Marquette finished fourth in the state.
“It started last year when we got down there to state — no one expected it, including myself,” said Hopkins, a Putnam County graduate. “When we got down there, we were just happy to be there. We had three seniors that led us and they taught this group. We didn’t do what we wanted to. We lost to Aurora Christian and they ended up winning it.
“You could sense at the beginning of the year (this season) what the players wanted. We had a little talk and we said, ‘The word state isn’t going to be talked about until it happens.’ When it did, it was all business. When we won the super-sectional I told them, ‘We need to be selfish about this. The next 5-6 days is about us and winning. We want to do everything correctly. We are going down there with one thing in our mind. We’re not leaving there without winning it.’”
Along the way, the Crusaders defeated some area teams.
Marquette defeated Tri-County Conference opponents Putnam County and Henry this season as well as non-conference foe Hall. St. Bede and the Crusaders were scheduled to play but had to cancel because of conference makeup games.
PC coach Chris Newsome realizes the Panthers and the Crusaders have a long standing rivalry, but he also respects and gives credit to Marquette for what they were able to do this season.
In the future, he wishes them the best — just not against his team.
“Marquette is always the team we seem to be going up against for the Tri-County Conference title,” Newsome said. “With Seneca coming in it throws another wrinkle into it, but Marquette is always going to be up there. They have a well ran program. Hopkins has deep roots there with longevity. Coming in, kids know what they’re coming into and they know what is expected of them. That makes it a little bit easier to run a program.
“He’s someone I look up to as a coach. He does things the right way. He plays small ball. He’s definitely someone that makes us prepare for the little things of the game. You can’t be sloppy against a Marquette team because they’ll take advantage of it.”
Bruins coach Bill Booker has coached against Todd Hopkins for many years as he has coached La Salle-Peru and St. Bede for 25 combined campaigns and was an assistant for La Salle-Peru for five seasons and at PC for one.
At this point, they know what type of game to expect from the other’s squad.
“There is always a competitive — if you want to call it a rivalry you can — when we play each other, but there is a lot of respect amongst coaches in the area,” Booker said. “When someone makes it to state, has a chance to win state or somebody does well in the playoffs, we’re in contact with each other. We are wishing each other well.
“It’s kind of neat to be rooting for someone who you play against every season. You get to know them a little more personally than just being a coach. You couldn’t be happier for a guy like that. He puts in a lot of time and works hard at what he does. He is well deserving of a state championship.”
Hopkins and Hall coach Tom Keegan share a different kind of bond as they’re both state champion coaches since Keegan won a Class 2A title with the Red Devils last spring.
They both reached the pinnacle of high school baseball success after many years in the dugout as Hopkins took over the Crusaders in 1998 and Keegan became the main guy for Hall in 2001.
“For myself, it was some validation for gutting it through and staying with it year after year,” Keegan said. “All the coaches will tell you if you’re persistent and stay with it, you will run across the group that is incredibly special. Todd has had several groups and this is the one that got the big trophy for him.
“If you look at Todd’s program, the team is traditionally strong year in and year out. They know how to play with expectations, for sure. When you win the title, it comes with a target on your back. There always seems like there is a residual effect. The kids behind a year or two see what the guys before them did. I’m convinced that there is a residual effect for every program when this happens.”
The Illinois Valley unity also put a smile to Hopkins face.
He realizes he is in the company of coaches he played against as a player and of his peers. He also saw opponents at the state tournament in support of the Crusaders.
“The area is very rich in baseball historically and obviously the last several years,” Hopkins said. “When I played, St. Bede won it in 1988 with coach John Bellino. Ken Jenkins went down to state several times (three) with Putnam County. Bill Booker took La Salle-Peru and St. Bede down and what Tom Keegan and Hall did last year.
“I want to give the Hall players a shoutout. They came down there to watch us this weekend and it was very much appreciated. Hall beat Marquette twice in basketball by four total points. Our kids respect them and wanted to do what they did. Our kids were able to get them in baseball in a great game. They’re a great group of kids on both sides.”
With the practices, trying to reschedule games because of weather and the brutal competition out of the way until training begins again, Hopkins only has one more obstacle.
He has to make room for the trophy.
“I haven’t been down there yet. We’ll figure something out,” Hopkins said. “It might be time for a little expansion.”
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.