CULLMAN — For the second straight year, Cullman dropped its opening playoff game against arch-rival Hartselle. And, for the second time in as many seasons, Keegan Thompson came to the rescue for the Bearcats, this time dazzling with a season-high 16 strikeouts in a complete-game effort for a 3-1 win in the nightcap.
The season-saving victory extended the second-round series into the weekend — again — with the deciding contest scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m. at Bill Shelton Field.
“Really, it's like Alabama-Auburn games,” said Thompson, who made his third start in six days. “It doesn't matter if one team is better or not, it's always going to be a dogfight to the end. Hopefully we can come back out tomorrow and win Game 3.”
Following a heartbreaking 3-0, eight-inning loss in the first game of the day, the Black and Gold (30-19) put their fate firmly in Thompson's hands. As the national prospect's done throughout his entire prep career, he delivered in mind-blowing fashion.
Thompson, who struck out the side three times and fanned five straight batters at one point, baffled the Tigers' potent lineup at an alarming rate. Thomas Johnston epitomized Hartselle's struggles with the fireballer's equally effective secondary pitches in his third-inning at-bat, buckling and starting to back out of the box on a wicked curveball before it broke down the middle of the plate for strike three.
“I just felt good tonight,” Thompson said. “I think my fastball was working pretty well, but my curve and slider were catching people off-guard.”
Unlike Game 1 starter Jordan Guthrie, Thompson was fortunate to receive just enough offense to earn the victory.
After 10 scoreless innings to start the series, Cullman finally pushed its first run across when Kristian Robinson drew a bases-loaded walk with two outs in the top half of the third.