Defense, Thompson’s pitching lift Jefferson (Mo.) past Polk State (Fla.)
Defense, Thompson's pitching lift Jefferson (Mo.) past Polk State (Fla.)
Tyler Thompson was the first to admit he didn’t have his best stuff Monday — far from it — but he wriggled himself off the hook time and time again for Jefferson (Mo.) College in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
“I got out of a few tough jams,” the sophomore said after the Vikings held off Polk State (Fla.) College 9-5 to advance in the winners’ bracket. “I’m thankful for that. I struggled with my command and walked way too many, but I only gave up three runs. My defense made some big plays.”
Yes, it did.
The Vikings (53-10, 2-0 JUCO) turned two double plays to end innings, threw another runner out at third to end an inning and of his six strikeouts, three ended innings, two with runners in scoring position.
“Last year if I struggled, I would have just folded,” he said. “There are so many people here, I never would have been able to get through it. That’s a testament, I guess, to last year and kind of knowing what to expect and to battle through it.”
In the third inning, already with a 6-0 lead, he struck out Ryne Knuth to open things, but walked the next two batters and then balked them both into scoring position.
However, he struck out the Eagles’ No. 3 and No. 4 hitters.
“I forget which inning, but they had first and second or bases loaded and the four-hole up and he got back-to-back strikeouts,” Jefferson coach Sam Carel said. “He hadn’t had that yet during the game. He made the pitches when he needed to.”
Even though Thompson was struggling, Carel stuck with him for a reason — he’s the Region 16 pitcher of the year.
“He’s got 22 wins in his career here at JeffCo; the guy grinded it out,” Carel said. “Last year if that’s a freshman out there like he was, he might not be able to grind out some of those innings like he did. He’s an experienced guy, that’s got to count for something.”
It counted for 119 pitches, only 66 strikes, but those defensive bail-outs got him through the seventh. Two plays stood out, the first in the fifth inning.
With one out and the bases loaded, Eric Hindmon’s bid for a flare over third base was speared by Jevon Jacobs, who quickly threw to second to double off Colt Hankamer and end the inning.
In the sixth, Polk got a run home when Alec Ashler flied out to center, but Holden Reeves, attempting to take third on the play, overslid the bag and Jacobs made a diving tag to end that inning.
It wasn’t all about the defense, though. The Vikings scored one run in the bottom of the first, then broke the game open in the second, sending nine men to the plate.
Jacobs singled home one run, and with two out and the bases loaded, Brett Wiley turned on a fastball from Brian Johnson.
“That felt pretty good,” he said. “That Colorado air up here.
“He was struggling early and couldn’t really locate the offspeed pitch so we could sit fastball all game. I hit it pretty good. I knew at home it would be gone and here I was hoping it would, but it’s a big park and there was no wind.”
The grand slam made it 6-0, and the Vikings added single runs in the fourth, seventh and eighth.
Polk cut it to 9-4 with a run in the eighth and got another home in the ninth before Travis Hayes got a slow roller to third and a fly ball to end the game.
Jefferson, which went 0-2 at JUCO last year, has flipped its record in 2012 and wants more. The Vikings collected 15 hits, with Brendon Neel going 3 for 3 and scoring twice and Wiley 2 for 4 with two runs scored and five RBI.
“We’re a little more prepared this year,” Thompson said. “Last year we were more happy to get here. We expect to go compete for a national title; we expect to win one.”