Unlike other high school baseball coaches, Okawville High coach Jackie Smith enjoys giving catcher Brad Fuhrhop the freedom to call pitches.
“He’s an extension of me and the other coaches,” Smith said of the senior and four-year starter. “I have no problems with the decisions that he makes. I know that his head’s in the right place every time he steps in the batter’s box and every time he steps behind the plate.”
Fuhrhop’s teammates trust him, too. The Kaskaskia College recruit delivered a game-tying RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning Monday to force extra innings in a super-sectional game eventually won 8-7 by the Rockets.
“I think everybody in the stands knew what was going to happen and sure enough, he singled in the run,” Smith said. “That’s Brad. He does the little things, he does the big things. He does pretty much everything.”
That win sent the Rockets (19-13-1) to the Class 1A state tournament; they open play at noon Friday against Goreville in Peoria.
“They’ve always trusted me since I was a freshman, even to call the pitches,” said Fuhrhop, the Rockets’ top hitter at .440 with eight doubles, five home runs and 27 RBIs. “Usually I have the same idea they do. I’m good friends with all of our pitchers and I know what they like to throw.
“I watch a lot of Cardinals baseball and right when I started catching I really got into watching all of that: how the catcher sets up, the pitch calling, everything. It’s just always really intrigued me.”
I think everybody in the stands knew what was going to happen and sure enough, he singled in the run. That’s Brad. He does the little things, he does the big things. He does pretty much everything.
Okawville coach Jackie Smith on Brad Fuhrhop
Senior pitcher Brendan Killion (9-2, 3.20 ERA) has been pitching to Fuhrhop since their youth league days and both were key players on junior high baseball and basketball teams that reached the state tournament.
“Brad’s been my catcher for so long now he knows exactly what I want to do,” said Killion, who signed with Division II Missouri S & T. “He knows the game really well and that helps a lot.”
Both players were big reasons the Rockets finished second in the state last spring. Both would prefer to upgrade that state trophy this weekend in Peoria.
“It really is special for the town,” said Fuhrhop, who has 83 career RBIs during four years as a starter. “A couple years later when we come back to school and there’s two banners ... if people ask you if you were a part of that team it will be special. Right now we’re living in the moment and not thinking about all that kind of stuff.
“But when you sit back and think about it, it’s pretty amazing that you’re one of the last four teams of all the 1A teams in Illinois.”
Killion’s father, Bryon Killion, played on Okawville’s 1992 state baseball tournament qualifier. His uncle is Rick Shipley, the former Centralia High basketball and baseball standout who starred in basketball at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and played minor-league baseball with the Kansas City Royals.
Brendan Killion is extremely competitive and sometimes his emotions creep through a bit on the mound.
They certainly did early in the super-sectional game Monday when he struggled with control. However, after allowing six runs early he tossed five scoreless innings and allowed only two hits during the span.
“Brendan’s a competitor,” said Smith, who enjoyed seeing Killion’s teammates rally around him. “He wants the ball and when they saw him get down a little bit, they were very quick and got over to him early. They said ‘We’ve got your back, just put some zeroes up for us.’ Sure enough the guys came through and got some runs for him.”
He’s got the mentality of an ace and I think he’s always had that. Ever since I’ve known him he’s wanted the ball in his hand.
Okawville coach Jackie Smith on Brendan Killion
The 6-foot-2 right-hander threw a two-hit shutout against Carrollton in the sectional semifinal with 10 strikeouts. He had 17 strikeouts against Odin in the regional and is a combined 17-5 over the last two seasons.
“He always had the ability to throw strikes and he had a decent arm coming up, but he really worked at it,” Smith said. “He’s got the mentality of an ace and I think he’s always had that. Ever since I’ve known him he’s wanted the ball in his hand.”
Fuhrhop has seen Killion make extreme progress since their junior-high days.
“I know what he likes to throw and he usually trusts me when I call pitches,” Fuhrhop said. “His velocity has increased year to year, his off-speed’s gotten better of course and his mental toughness grows every game.
“You can tell when he’s in a zone that not many people can touch him.”
Rock behind the plate
DNA also had a role in making Fuhrhop the player he has become. Older brother Bryn Fuhrhop was a senior when Brad was a sophomore, allowing him to serve as catcher for an older generation.
“I always got to play up with him, so I’d get to catch those guys that were three years older than me,” Brad Fuhrhop said. “I really learned a lot there. I really just started catching because nobody else wanted to do it. I thought it looked fun for a bit.”
Fuhrhop’s father, was a high school infielder who coached both sons’ teams as often as possible. Mother Trina Fuhrhop was a solid athlete and top-notch softball player who was still playing slow-pitch softball up until a few years ago. A younger brother is in eighth grade.
Okawville is and always will be a basketball town with its proud tradition of success, but players like Fuhrhop and Killion have done a lot to put baseball on the city map as well.
Two straight state tourney trips definitely raises the bar- and expectations. Another byproduct is the large group of young boys traveling to these state tournaments who dream of making a state trip of their own somewhere down the line.
“It’s definitely changing people’s state of mind about Okawville baseball,” Fuhrhop said. “Hopefully we can keep it going.”