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Team is the top priority: Hopfauf helps lead Roughriders entering state tourney

Photo by Royal McGregor Dickinson second baseman Tanner Hopfauf connects with a home run against Glendive, Mont., during an American Legion doubleheader on June 8 at Southside Municipal Ballpark and Astoria Field.1 / 3
Photo by Royal McGregor Alex Huschka celebrates pitching against Minot on June 16 at Southside Municipal Ballpark and Astoria Field.2 / 3
Photo by Royal McGregor Cole Anderson fields a groundball against Piedmont, S.D., on June 27 at Southside Municipal Ballpark and Astoria Field.3 / 3

Despite leading the Dickinson Roughriders American Legion baseball team in doubles, triples, home runs and RBI, Tanner Hopfauf cares about only one statistic.

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Adding another notch in the win column.

Hopfauf doesn’t get wrapped up in individual statistics, especially during tournament time when his team has two choices: win or go home.

“We did a good job as a team,” said Hopfauf, who has a .297 batting average with seven doubles, three triples, six home runs and 41 RBI. “Personally, I believe that I did well, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about the team.”

The Roughriders begin the North Dakota American Legion State AA Tournament against Fargo Post 2 at 12:45 p.m. today at Jack Brown Stadium in Jamestown.

Dickinson closed out the regular season with a 24-17 record. The Roughriders lost seven of their last eight games, including three consecutive double headers to Grand Forks, Fargo and Mandan. They ended the season with a 10-8 win over Minot on Friday to split a doubleheader.

Though the Roughriders’ regular season ended on a rough note, head coach Cory Hansen said the team has had one of its best weeks of practice.

“We’ve had solid, solid practices,” Hansen said. “We got a lot of things cleared up. We got guys in different positions, but we are getting those little kinks out. Hopefully we step up in key times during the games.”

After spending nearly the entire season as the designated hitter for the Dickinson High baseball team, Hopfauf found his spot on the diamond at second base with the Roughriders.

In 102 total chances, Hopfauf has committed six errors and helped turn nine double plays for a .941 fielding percentage.

“I was one of the only guys that stuck in that one spot, which is alright and I was OK with that,” Hopfauf said. “I knew that’s where I was going to play and that’s where I needed to get comfortable there. That’s where I played most of my life. I got used to it. I got a lot of ground balls there and got a lot of playing time. It was good and I was happy with it.”

Relying on young players

The experience for the newcomers range from playing the entire season — in the case of Lucas Jones, Kendall Jones and Andrew Heckaman — to playing the final two weeks of the regular season — Benson Kramer, Tanner Ouellette, Logan Jones and Cam Jorda. Heckaman saw a little bit of time with the Roughriders last season, but has spent a majority of this season behind the plate.

Dickinson first baseman Cole Anderson remembers when he received his first call up with the Roughriders. He admitted there were nerves.

“My heart was racing,” Anderson said with a laugh. “I was definitely nervous, because there’s a big difference from Legion A to Legion B. More people are watching, so there’s more pressure, but you have to stay focused and relaxed.”

Alex Huschka, the Roughriders’ centerfielder and starting pitcher, said his message to the younger players is to play hard, compete and enjoy every moment.

“It’s big for us to have the younger kids coming up to help us,” he said. “Maybe they’ll come in, get a clutch hit or pitch a clutch inning to save peoples arms. Anything is possible, they are good enough to play on this team and that’s why they are here.”

As new players enter the Roughriders lineup, Anderson, Hopfauf and Huschka enter their final stretch. They are in their last year of eligibility. Anderson and Hopfauf are attending school at the University of North Dakota in the fall, while Huschka is returning to Dickinson State after spending last spring as a redshirt freshman for the Blue Hawks.

Hopfauf said it’s sad to know that the year is coming to an end. However, he wants to return in future years to give back to the Dickinson baseball program.

“I’m looking to stay in the program after I’m done playing whether it’s coaching or anything,” he said. “I just want to have a part in it, because it’s a great program. We get a lot of support from the town and it’s awesome. I just want to remain part of it.”

Looking for another postseason run

Lately, the Roughriders haven’t been short on making Cinderella postseason runs.

Dickinson’s biggest postseason run came two years ago when they finished one game away from making the Central Plains Regional championship. The Roughriders finished in third place in that tournament, which they were hosting.

Hansen said the reasoning behind the postseason runs is simple — added momentum.

“What happens is a key play is made or an unsung hero steps up,” he said. “The guys that have been here a while have to do continue to do their job. It’s the guy that we don’t necessarily rely on. As long as our pitchers give us a chance and keep us in the game and our defense is there, we have as good of a chance as anybody.”

Alex Huschka and Cole Anderson, who were on the team during the third-place finish at the CPR Tournament two years ago, said the team knows how to play in crunch time.

“We can do it, absolutely,” Huschka said. “Everyone on our team is confident right now. We are out here having fun at practice, having a good time with smiles on our faces and we are excited for the tournament. Right now, we couldn’t have our heads in better places.”

Anderson added: “Our team has definitely been the Cinderella team for the last couple of years. We definitely have the ability to do it. There’s no doubt about that.”