HOPKINSVILLE – Hunter Evans killed two birds with one stone this summer – maybe three if you count proximity and comfort to that list.

Evans not only stayed close to home for summer league baseball, his tenure with the Hoptown Hoppers is giving him live pitching looks he didn’t have during a redshirt year at Western Kentucky. It’s also giving the former South Warren catcher a jump-start on a potentially crucial connection he’ll need for the Toppers behind the plate in the future.

That benefit is similar to what Evans and three other WKU baseball players are sharing this summer in Hopkinsville with the summer collegiate baseball team. The Hoppers compete in the Ohio Valley League and play with NCAA rules and guidelines, the only difference is the use of a wooden bat.

For the Spartans alum Evans, a relatively short drive by summer baseball standards gives him the comfort of home and everything else he needs to develop as a college baseball player.

“Some guys want to go to California or Florida,” Evans said. “I like it because it’s good competition and it’s close to home. On off days, I’m able to go to the house.”

Evans is one of four WKU baseball players on the Hoppers’ roster this summer alongside rising sophomore pitcher Hunter Crosby and newcomers Jacob Jenkins and Lane Diuguid. Hoptown’s roster is made up of 27 college baseball players from around the country that currently have the team at 17-11 and leading the West Division of the nine-member OVL organization.

The Hoppers, formed in 2012, play home games at Hopkinsville High School and have a strong reputation in the league with three championships.

The benefit for Evans has been the 82 plate appearances across 28 games he’s had to face live pitching. He currently has 13 hits and three home runs on a .206 batting average.

“My thing has been working on my offense, working on my swing and hitting the ball better,” the rising sophomore said. “From live pitching instead of (batting practice) and hitting off the machine, it’s basically about live reps, benefit-wise.”

The other plus has been the opportunity to catch for a rising pitching star coming to WKU.

Recent Christian County graduate and WKU signee Diuguid jumped right into summer baseball with the Hoppers and went 3-2 with a 3.60 earned run average. The lefty started classes at WKU this week and said he plans to scale back his schedule and pitch once a week for the Hoppers, who have 12 games remaining until July 23.

“I think I caught him every time he threw,” Evans said. “It was good to get to know him and what he likes to do, how his ball moves and that kind of deal. It’s huge because when you first catch a guy you don’t know exactly what his ball is going to do or if he’s wild or has good control.

“It’s good because we’ll be able to go up there in the fall and won’t have any discomfort catching.”

Diuguid’s 35 innings pitched leads the OVL this summer. The future Hilltopper said pushing those limits has been about building stamina against better hitters than he was used to facing at the prep level. He wrapped up his regular appearances with the Hoppers on July 2 with 37 strikeouts, the second-highest in the league. His future teammate Crosby went 1-2 in three starts on the mound and pitched 15 1/3 innings this summer for the Hoppers before leaving for the summer.

As a senior for the Colonels, Diuguid didn’t give up a run in 19 innings pitched, struck out 28 and allowed just seven hits.

“It was great, fun and definitely different because everybody was older,” Diuguid said. “I was one of the youngest on the team with a couple of other people there. With the wooden bats, that’s even more interesting. I liked it and I think it helped me out a lot.

“I’d say one thing that was different is I couldn’t make a mistake this summer that I could make in high school or else I’d pay for it. Like not locating pitches or not having off-speed one day. I can get away with that most of the time, but at this high of a level you can’t. You can’t beat everybody.”

Live reps certainly helped bear results for Jenkins, a Hendersonville, Tenn., native who sat out last season at WKU after transferring from NAIA program MidAmerica Nazarene.

Jenkins had not seen live pitching since an intrasquad scrimmage at WKU in early spring. As of Tuesday, he had 102 plate appearances with a .432 batting average. He spent last summer in Pasadena, Calif., playing in the California Collegiate League.

“I’m out here the whole season, trying to get as many at-bats as I can, see as many innings as I can and trying to get better,” Jenkins said. “Last summer, I went to the CCL and saw great competition and this summer, I was staying close to home. It’s still good competition. Summer ball is a great opportunity to see some live pitching.”

Diuguid noted the uniqueness of four Hilltoppers spending a summer together after having not shared the field together as a whole previously.

“I liked it a lot because you can start to build a relationship,” Diuguid said. “(Evans) can start to understand what kind of pitcher I am and what kind of catcher he is. I already knew Hunter Crosby because we played on the same travel team. I kind of knew Hunter, but I didn’t know Jacob. It was definitely cool and I look forward to playing with them in the future.”{&end}

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Covering the Western Kentucky University athletics beat for the Bowling Green Daily News.

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