By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Though Keegan Thompson and Cara Goodwin officially reside in the cities of Cullman and Good Hope, both standouts have spent a great deal of their young lives feeling right at home on the pitcher’s mound and in the pitcher’s circle.
In 2012, those places were where the pair not only proved they were the best the area has to offer, but that they can stand on their own in discussions involving the state’s, the country’s and even the world’s most talented amateur baseball and softball players.
After exploding onto the scene with a sophomore campaign for the ages that resulted in him receiving the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year award, Thompson knew every batter he faced his junior year would bring their best. Too bad for those batters, the Bearcat ace brought his best, too.
And his best is almost always better.
Wielding a full array of pro-level pitches, including a low- to mid-90s fastball and a curveball that leaves most opponents shaking in their cleats, Thompson compiled a 7-2 record on the mound to go along with four saves. He sent 119 batters back to the dugout with strikeouts and posted a miniscule 0.94 ERA while only being charged with five walks and nine earned runs in 67 1/3 innings.
After multiple game-winning hits at the plate and numerous one-hit gems on the mound, Thompson saved his best showing for last, striking out 10 of Hartselle’s last 12 batters and 15 overall in a do-or-die 3-1 victory to extend the second-round playoff series to a decisive Game 3.
“Our backs were up against the wall, but he came out and put the team on his shoulders,” Bearcat coach Brent Patterson told The Times. “They (Hartselle) weren’t going to hit. They weren’t going to score. Literally, he put the team on his back and got us to the next day. That’s just the kind of competitor he is.”
When awards season came around, Thompson raked in nearly every accolade possible, garnering Class 5A Pitcher and Player of the Year, First Team pitcher and Super All-State Team honors from the Alabama Sports Writers Association. His Super All-State Team selection was his second in a row, making the fireballer the first Cullman baseball player to grace the exclusive list twice.
Thompson was plenty busy in the summer, too, baffling batters as a member of the Alabama Seminoles before taking off to North Carolina and southern California for USA Baseball’s extensive tryout process for the 18-and-under National Team. He eventually made the final cut and traveled with the team to Seoul, South Korea, where Thompson struck out Canada’s final two batters to clinch the USA’s first 18U world championship since 1999. The phenom was also the winning pitcher in the title game for the USA’s 16U National Team in 2011.
In mid-November, Thompson officially signed a national letter of intent to attend and play baseball for Auburn University, where he had verbally committed two years prior. Though he’s expected to be an early selection in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft next June, the national prospect said he’s leaning toward suiting up for the Tigers no matter what.
“There’s a 90 percent chance I’m going to Auburn because I want to go to college and experience the college life while I’m still young,” Thompson told The Times.
If anyone understands what it’s like to be a pitcher with a constant target on their back, it’s Goodwin. The Raider just plays a slightly different sport and utilizes a different repertoire of pitches, most notably her gravity-defying trademark riseball.
Earning All-State status is nothing new for Goodwin, but she did so again in 2012 with her most productive season yet, racking up school records in wins (47), strikeouts (525) and innings pitched (318 2/3). The then-junior also claimed four no-hitters, 19 shutouts and sported an insanely low 0.86 ERA, leading Good Hope to a gritty comeback through the consolation bracket for the Northwest Regional title and an appearance at the state tournament.
Like Thompson, the postseason recognition was plentiful for Goodwin. The Raider star was named the Class 4A Pitcher of the Year and a First Team pitcher by the ASWA. Though she was snubbed when the ASWA rleased its Super All-State Team, the National Fastpitch Coaches Association more than made up for the exclusion by choosing Goodwin for its South Region First Team in June. The NFCA made her Good Hope’s very first All-American one week later.
“It was disappointing that she wasn’t recognized, but at the same time, a name and a piece of paer is just a name and a piece of paper,” Raider coach Wayne Harris told The Times. “To me, this show the people not just in the South, but in the nation, recognize her abilities. I’m just glad she got this.”
In mid-June, Goodwin joined Holly Pond’s Katlyn Whitehead as the pitcher and catcher for the north squad in the first game of the All-Star Sports Week softball doubleheader in Montgomery, and in late October, she was was tabbed a state finalist for the Wendy’s High School Heisman award, one of 10 female student-athletes in Alabama to receive the honor.
Almost two weeks later, Goodwin inked her national letter of intent to join UAB’s ascending softball program. She verbally committed with the Blazers earlier in the year.
“It’s a great reflection and accomplishment for for her, a lot of years of hard,” Harris told The Times at Goodwin’s signing ceremony. “To be able to further her education and still play ball and get financial assistance, what better thing can you ask for? When you’ve got a good person, good student, great athlete, that’s what they play the game for.”
Thompson and Goodwin’s senior seasons will begin when the state’s baseball and softball schedules start in mid-February.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.