Jayson Hoopes was a hard-throwing junior last spring and expected to be a big part of St. Augustine Prep’s state playoff run, but an injury had him watching from the bench as the Hermits took down Delbarton to win the Non-Public A championship. This year, Hoopes was determined to be an impact player as once again the Hermits were favored to make a repeat appearance in the state championship game.

Hoopes had shown the ability to produce high velocity during his high school career, but as a senior he became much more of a pitcher than just hard thrower. Glory Days’ Pitcher of the Year was dominant from start to finish in the 2019 season, and had his best game on the biggest stage, in the state title game against Delbarton, where he was matched up against Jack Leiter, one of the best high school pitchers in the country. Hoopes allowed a two-run home run in the bottom of the first to New York Yankees first-round draft pick Anthony Volpe — but that was the only hit he allowed until he had to be lifted late in the game after reaching the 110-pitch limit. The Hermits lost that game in eight innings, but Hoopes — who plans to attend the University of Virginia despite being drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 36th round of this year’s Major League Baseball Amateur Draft — had proven he was no fluke.

He pitched a team-high 38 innings this year for St. Augustine, allowing just nine earned runs and striking out 65 while posting a 6-0 record and a 1.66 ERA. Think about this: he threw 661 pitches this year and allowed just 18 hits. And it wasn’t like he was facing easy lineups. This year he pitched against Toms River North, Buena Regional, ACIT, Holy Spirit, Trenton Catholic, Shawnee, St. John Vianney, St. Joseph-Metuchen and Delbarton, which finished the year as the No. 1 team in the state. Hoopes also contributed with the bat, hitting better than .300 with 19 hits, including two doubles and two home runs, and 14 RBIs.

“Last year, I got hurt right before the playoffs so I didn’t have much of a shot to do anything, so this year I needed to step up. That was the biggest thing. I learned a lot,” Hoopes said. “In the state championship, after Volpe hit that home run, I fixed what I was doing wrong and went from throwing mostly fastballs to mostly sliders, and they didn’t get a hit the rest of the game. Going into that game, I thought we were going to win. We knew we could do it, but we just came up a little bit short.”

St. Augustine was without former ace Kevin Eaise, who had graduated in 2018, and Cole Vanderslice was dealing with some injuries throughout the season which limited him to just 17 innings, so Hoopes knew he had to step up and be the man for the Hermits. He helped lead the Hermits to a 24-5 record that included a Cape-Atlantic League American Conference championship and Prep’s fourth straight South Jersey title. The Hermits also reached the state championship game for the third straight season.

“I’ve always wanted to be the guy, and this year I had the chance to do that,” he said. “This was our final chance for the seniors to leave it all out there on the field, and I think that’s what we did.”

According to his Perfect Game profile, the 6-foot-3, 170-pounder has topped out at 93 miles-per-hour on his fastball and has a “lean and lanky build, very projectable physically. Athletic up-tempo delivery, has energy at release, stays on line well and gets over his front side.”

“I just have to keep my head on straight and stay focused on what I’m doing out there on the mound, don’t lose my composure. I still think I can be a lot better,” Hoopes said. “There was one game where everything felt really good, almost perfect, and from there on out I threw pretty well. I think it was the change-up that developed throughout the year the most. In the beginning of the year it wasn’t great and I couldn’t throw it for a strike at all, but I kept practicing and toward the end of the year I got pretty confident in it. That was a big factor.”

Hoopes chose not to sign with the Cubs and instead pursue college baseball in the hopes of getting drafted higher after his junior year, but he said it’s still a really cool feeling to be a high school player selected in the Major League draft.

“It’s awesome. I’m really thankful that they drafted me, it’s definitely really cool,” he said. “(At Virginia) I think I just need to keep working hard.”
Although Hoopes kind of burst onto the scene late in his high school career, he said it was great to be part of such a successful high school baseball program.

“The best game was — even though I didn’t play in it — the state championship victory last year. I’ll never forget that feeling,” he said. “It was really awesome. I can’t even put it into words, the feeling you get. That’s why I think guys like me, Cole, Gerry (Peacock) and all the seniors wanted to win it so bad this year because we know the feeling of winning one and losing one, and winning feels a whole lot better. That’s what kept us focused, and even though we didn’t come out with the win, it was a good run.”

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays