Nearly 90 minutes after tossing five innings in a must-win game against Muscle Shoals on Saturday, Keegan Thompson approached Brent Patterson and told his coach he wanted to start just two days later with Cullman’s first-round series on the line.
And when a kid like Thompson — a national prospect, an Auburn signee, a world champion — makes a request like that, how could any coach say no? Don’t ask Patterson, because he said yes — and he sure is glad he did.
Despite taking the mound on just one day’s rest, Thompson had his way with the Trojan lineup yet again, striking out nine in six strong innings of work en route to a 9-2 Game 3 victory. Jesse Scott fanned one in the seventh to seal the series-clinching win for the Bearcats.
“He’s been a lot of places, played in a lot of different situations and he’s seen every scenario,” Patterson said of Thompson. “He said, ‘I want to be the guy. I want the ball.’ And the bottom line is we wanted him to have it, too. It’s a nice thing to have him in your hip pocket to go to. We’re lucky to have a guy like that.”
Though he admitted to feeling tight before the game, Thompson looked as sharp as ever through the first five innings. The short rest caught up to him by the sixth, though, when Muscle Shoals turned three hits and a beaned batter into two runs.
Think a couple of runners crossing the plate made Thompson sweat just a little bit? Of course not. He responded by striking out back-to-back Trojans to get out of the inning and end his outing on a high note.
“I just wanted to come out here and help the team win,” Thompson said. “I wasn’t trying to throw as hard as I normally do. I was just trying to locate more and get them out on better pitches.”
With four runs coming across for Cullman in the first inning, the pressure was immediately taken off of Thompson’s arm. Cole Collins and Thompson began the frame with singles, followed by a Lance Cleveland walk to load the bases.
From there, Kristian Robinson and Wesley Walker “drove in” the Bearcats’ first two runs on a walk and hit-by-pitch, and Mason Jones did the rest, knocking in two more on a bloop single to right field.
Just when the Trojans thought they had a chance by closing the deficit to 6-2 in the sixth, the Black and Gold closed the door by piling on three insurance runs in the top of the seventh. Two of the scores came on errors, while the other came on another RBI hit by Jones.
Cole Collins’ hot bat from Saturday carried over into Monday’s ballgame. The sophomore finished 3 for 5, reached base four times and just barely missed out on driving in a run when Kolby Robinson was called out on a close play at home in the sixth inning.
Lance Cleveland smacked an opposite-field RBI double and flashed his glove work at first base, while Wesley Walker also contributed a two-base hit and was beaned with the bases loaded for an RBI.
Auston Neal came through with a pinch-hit in the final frame, and Kristian Robinson induced a bases-load walk in the opening inning.
Cullman will need its offense to be clicking on all cylinders like it was in the series’ final two games when it hosts Hartselle for a second-round doubleheader on Friday. There’s already a lot at stake every time the two rivals meet, but the Bearcats will be hungrier than ever after being ousted by the Tigers in three games at Bill Shelton Field at this time last year.
“I feel confident. As long as we hit like we have been, like we did against them in the area, we should win,” Thompson said.
When asked whether he’ll be ready to pitch on Friday, most likely in the nightcap, the national prospect’s answer came as fast as one of his deliveries to the plate — and it was even packaged with a smile.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.