A fastball left Wapahani Zack Thompson’s left hand off a 2-2 count, destined for the outside corner of home plate.
It crossed and slapped into catcher Grant Thompson’s glove, he paused for a second, unsure of what the call was going to be. Over the season, Grant Thompson has caught hundreds of Zack Thompson’s pitches, but none had history hanging in the balance.
Umpire Tom Neuenschwander fired an emphatic strike three call, and Grant Thompson rushed the mound, curving to the right as Zack Thompson trotted off, in disbelief at what had just happened. Then they threw their arms around each other in celebration.
The season was over, the marathon complete. What would normally be a routine strikeout had just ignited every Raider player, every Raider fan, both inside Victory Field and back home in Selma. At the sound of the umpires call, Wapahani was the IHSAA 2A state champion, defeating Evansville Mater Dei 2-0 at Victory Field.
And it was the best strike three call Grant Thompson has ever heard through his catcher’s mask.
“It was unlike anything I’ve ever felt before,” Grant Thompson said. “I knew Zack was going to strike him out, that’s just what he does. It’s an amazing feeling; I don’t know how to describe it.”
That confidence in his pitcher is what dictated the final at-bat. Grant Thompson said that Zack Thompson messed around with other pitches during the inning, but wanted him to stick with his fastball with the championship game on the line.
When the ball crossed the plate, Mater Dei batter Jake Zigenfus froze, his entire body paralyzed.
It was the perfect pitch, according to Zack Thompson, and perfect not just in location and speed, but considering the situation and history on the line.
The pitch was a carbon copy of what Wapahani players and fans watched all season, although the significance was unlike anyone in the area has ever experienced. The final strikeout, this one looking, gave Wapahani the honor of being the first baseball state champion from Delaware County history.
“Pure joy, felt great,” Zack Thompson said. “Grant caught the ball and I knew it was strike three, it was right there. To be able to build on tradition, that was great.”
It’s no surprise the pitcher, who’s made a name all season striking people out shutting down opponents, knew it caught the corner.
His partner on the other side of the battery was more cautious. The sophomore has been on the receiving of most if not allof Zack Thompson’s 152 strikeouts this season, and knows the pitcher’s repertoire better than anybody else, except Zack Thompson himself.
“For a second there, I wasn’t really sure if he was going to call it,” Grant Thompson said. “It was thigh high, outside corner, and we got it. I didn’t want to mess around in that last at-bat, just let him throw what he wanted.”
There was an explosion of gloves, hats, arms and hands flying into the air as the catcher rushed forward. He curved to the right, making his way to Zack Thompson, who allowed just two runs throughout regionals, semi-state, and state.
As the two jumped and yelled, overcome with emotion, Grant Thompson suddenly separated and leapt to his right. He heard the roar of incoming teammates and the thunder of their dirt-caked cleats on the grass, he knew what was coming next. He squirmed away, barely escaping the incoming dog pile that engulfed Zack Thompson.
He’s gone through his fair share of dog piles and decided he was better off saving his body this time. After winning a state title, getting injured wasn’t next on his to-do list.
“I wanted to get out of the way before I blew out a knee or something,” He said. “Last few times, I’ve been on the bottom; let’s just say it’s not too fun being on the bottom even if you win.”
Inside the dugout, Wapahani coach Brian Dudley watched as Grant Thompson caught the ball, not knowing for a brief second if he would get the state championship he’s sought for 31 years. Stitches wrapped around his right eye, where a warm-up throw hit him just a week earlier.
“I was definitely wishing, believe me,” Dudley said, laughing.
When the umpire pulled his right arm back and rung up the batter, there was no more wishing for Dudley.
His wish had come true.