By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Hampered by a strained left calf, Keegan Thompson couldn’t even run comfortably, so he definitely didn’t think he’d be able to pitch without pain, either.
As East Limestone came to find out on Thursday in Cullman, Thompson could pitch pain-free, and he did, which spelled bad news for the Indians’ chances of stealing an area series from the No. 4 Bearcats.
Following an uncharacteristic 5-4 loss in the first contest of the day, the Black and Gold turned to their national prospect in Game 2. As he’s done on every stage imaginable, Thompson came through in the clutch, striking out 13 in five no-hit innings to propel Cullman to a 13-0 series-clinching win.
“I don’t really get shaken up by pressure,” he said of being on the mound in a must-win game. “I’ve been in big-pressure situations all my high school career, so it didn’t really bother me.”
Thompson hadn’t even tried to throw off the mound since injuring his calf last Friday, so Bearcat coach Brent Patterson never planned to let the Auburn signee pitch at all on Thursday. After testing his leg during the middle of the first game and again between contests, Thompson approached his coach while he was setting the Game 2 lineup.
“He told me, ‘If I can go, I’m going,’” Patterson recalled.
Luckily for Thompson, his teammates’ bats were also going in the nightcap. The Black and Gold finished with 14 hits, riding six-run outbursts in the third and fourth innings to mercy East Limestone.
Thompson was intentionally walked in five of his eight total at-bats but made the most of the two times he was pitched to in the second game, driving in Kolby Robinson with a single in the first inning and knocking in two more on a double down the left-field line in the fourth.
“The first game, it made me a little bit mad because I wanted to help out and produce for my team, but I can’t really help that they wanted to walk me,” Thompson said of the free passes.
Robinson was pretty productive in his own right. The freshman, batting leadoff in both games, was good for two hits in the nightcap, including a double to the left-field fence in the second inning.
Cole Collins also contributed two hits, as did Mason Jones to go along with his one RBI.
Lance Cleveland, Zac Crocker, Kristian Robinson, Wesley Walker and Clay Krout all had one hit apiece. Cleveland and Krout each chipped in one RBI, Crocker stole a base and Robinson’s hit was a double to left field that was nearly a mirror image of the one his younger brother slugged earlier in the game.
Cullman put itself behind the 8-ball by losing Game 1, but Patterson was able to breathe a sigh of relief because of the team’s ability to put the disappointing defeat behind them.
“It’s the playoffs. It’s the rest of the year,” the coach said. “It would’ve been out of our hands. We would’ve been relying on somebody else, and we didn’t want to be there.”
As content as Patterson was at the end of the night, he was anything but during the day’s opening game. His defense made a trio of errors to waste an effective start by Sam Huser, and his lineup wasn’t able to string together any significant offense until it was too late.
Toss in Patterson’s ejection to start the sixth inning, and it was a contest the coach would probably like to forget the rest of the season. Immediately after Crocker was picked off at first to end the fifth, Patterson rushed to the umpire who made the call to argue his case for a balk.
The coach wound up talking to all three officials for a lengthy amount of time but ended up walking back to the dugout — and then the clubhouse — without his desired result.
“We feel like he balked, and they feel like he didn’t. We disagreed. Coaches and umpires do that a lot,” Patterson said with a laugh.
Samuel Murphree roped a two-out RBI double in the second inning, and Wesley Walker brought in Cleveland, who had doubled to open the frame, with a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
With the Bearcats facing a 5-2 deficit heading into the last half-inning, Cleveland pushed two runs home on another double before Walker grounded out to third to give the Indians a narrow victory.
Jones and Kristian Robinson both hit singles in the opener.
Despite his squad ultimately earning the series win, Patterson said the Black and Gold need to quit changing identities based on which players take the mound.
Cullman (11-9) has been able to produce offensively and defensively in nearly all of Jordan Guthrie’s and Thompson’s starts but have had trouble doing the same when Patterson hands the ball off to the duo’s teammates.
“I don’t mean this in a good way, but we’re different when him (Thompson) and Gut are on the mound, and we shouldn’t be,” the coach said. “We’ve got to learn to be the same team no matter who’s pitching. We’re trying to figure it out.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.