ALEXANDRIA, Ind. – To hear Wapahani baseball coach Brian Dudley tell it, it was pure serendipity ace Zack Thompson found himself getting the ball for Friday’s showdown with No. 1-ranked Alexandria. The No. 4 Raiders played a Mid-Eastern Conference game the day before, and in most instances, the top pitcher would get the call in that situation.
“He just threw Saturday,” Dudley said matter-of-factly. “It was a thing where it was just his turn.”
But despite traditional logic, Alexandria coach Jeff Closser still expected to face the big gun.
“Brian and I have been around a long time,” Closser said. “We always see their best.”
Thompson did what he does best, No. 1-ranked lineup or not, striking out 17 batters in a 4-0 victory. Afterward, Dudley said his team doesn’t talk much about rankings, but for a team that finished last season as state champions, it seemed as if a message was sent about the perils of occupying that spot.
“Any time you play a No. 1 team, you know you want to come out and play your best,” shortstop Hayden Castor said. “I think that’s what we did.”
“We showed we’re a good team, they’re a good team.”
Castor played a role in the Raiders (10-3) pulling out the win, snapping a two-run triple as part of a four-run second inning. Wapahani managed five hits in the inning, and every run came in with two outs.
Castor pointed out, with Thompson (3-0) pitching, that’s usually more than enough.
The sophomore struck out the side in four of seven innings and faced the minimum through four. He managed to strand two in the fifth inning, and loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the seventh before striking out a pair to complete the 106-pitch complete game.
“We didn’t make any adjustments” said Closser, adding it becomes almost impossible once Thompson is spotted a four-run lead. “We’re still swinging long. These guys aren’t going to see 90 like that all the time or high 80s.
“I’m disappointed in the way we swung the bat.”
Closser’s pitcher, Braxton Moore (3-1), didn’t pitch badly, striking out nine and allowing only three hits outside the second inning. Moore is the Tigers’ No. 2 arm, as Alexandria’s top hurler, Blaize Kelly, threw in a conference game Thursday against Blackford.
An element making Thompson’s performance all the more impressive was the presence of Owen Miller-Young at the heart of the Tigers (9-2) order. The 6-foot-4 first baseman is an Ohio State signee and son of former major leaguer Dmitri Young. He came into the game hitting .600 with nine extra base hits in 35 at-bats.
Against Thompson, he managed a walk, after which he was caught trying to steal second, a strikeout looking and a grounder dropped by the second baseman. Thompson said he relished the chance to go against the future Buckeye, especially because their relationship goes a little deeper.
“It’s always a challenge facing Owen,” Thompson said. “He’s a very good player and a very good friend. We’ve played fall ball together for a few years and taken lessons over the winter together.
“It’s wonderful, I love competing against him.”