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April 3, 2013

PREP BASEBALL: Thompson, Bearcats clinch playoff spot with rain-soaked win vs. Warriors

WEST POINT — If Keegan Thompson could handle pitching in the rain for USA Baseball’s 16-and-under National Team against Cuba in 2011, there was no doubt Cullman’s ace could do it again Wednesday on the road against West Point.

Despite the constant downpour, which worsened as the area contest went on, Thompson still managed to strike out nine and limit the Warriors to three hits in an 8-1 series-clinching win for the Bearcats.

The umpires finally called the game in the top of the sixth after the wet conditions resulted in back-to-back walks by West Point.

“Today was a little bit worse because the mound conditions were worse,” Thompson said, comparing his latest outing to his World Championship gem two years ago. “It was real hard to control the ball because there really weren’t many ground balls out there, but it wasn’t too bad.”

The Auburn signee had at least one strikeout in all five innings, punching out two apiece in the first and fifth frames to go along with three K’s in three at-bats in the third. The rain only seemed to affect Thompson in the fourth, when Wesley Smith followed up singles by Wesley Waters and Ryder Jones with one of his own to account for West Point’s only run.

“It’s nice to know that you’ve got somebody to go out there you can count on,” Cullman coach Brent Patterson said. “Keegan’s obviously done it many times before.”

The Bearcat offense gave lefty Jordan Guthrie more than enough run support on Tuesday and did so again just 24 hours later. The Black and Gold poured on four runs before the Warriors could muster a single out in the third en route to a five-hit, six-run inning.

Cole Collins and Wesley Walker both had two-run singles in the frame, while Thompson also knocked in a run with a bloop hit to center field.

Zac Crocker, who stroked his second single in the sixth inning, was instantly brought in by Collins, who skied a double to the fence in right-center field. Collins then scored Cullman’s last run on a passed ball before the infield umpire ordered the Warrior defense to head to the dugout because of the showers.

A quick meeting between Patterson and West Point coach Trai Meadows later, the game was in the books, giving the Bearcats a victory to push their record to 21-11.

“Last year, we didn’t get a whole lot of run support,” Thompson said of him and Guthrie. “The bats are starting to come around now. It’s nice to get a few runs on the board when you’re pitching.”

Kristian Robinson rounded out the Bearcats’ contributing hitters with a single straight up the middle in the second inning.

The Black and Gold will head to Tennessee for four games on Friday and Saturday  before turning all their attention to next week’s area-series showdown against arch-rival Hartselle.

Cullman already assured itself a postseason spot with series wins against East Limestone and West Point, but Thompson still said the team has plenty to play for.

“It’s nice to be in the playoffs right now, but we want to be first,” the national prospect said. “We want to get home-field advantage second round of the playoffs no matter who we play. We want to win.”

Coupled with the trip north for games versus Bartlett, Collierville, Houston (Germantown) and Germantown, Patterson is expecting one exciting stretch of baseball.

“It’s a huge week. That’s why you play. That’s why you work in the offseason,” the coach said. “We motivate them (Hartselle). They motivate us. It’s fun.”



% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at robk@cullmantimes.com.

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