No. 1 Thompson wins thrilling game 3 to advance to Class 7A semifinals

Published 4:42 pm Saturday, May 6, 2023

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor 

MADISON – After watching Bob Jones snatch away their lead following two home runs to total three runs in the bottom of the sixth, the top-ranked Thompson Warriors entered the top of the seventh with their season on the line trailing 5-4 when head coach Frankie Perez huddled his team outside of the dugout.

“So, you saw us when we huddled over there, right?” Perez said after the game. “I just got them together and said, ‘Guys, we have done the mental training all year and every time we have a talk, what’s the difference? It’s the mental edge. Don’t quit, don’t quit, don’t quit. I want you to empty the tank for each other. It’s we over me. Empty the tank for each other. If the game ends that way, that’s fine. Let’s go home knowing that we emptied the tank and they were better than us today.’”

And the mental toughness he prepared his team for all season was about to pay off in that moment.

Braydon Smith led off the top of the seventh with a walk at the bottom of the order, bringing the top of the order back to the plate.

A bunt then led to an out, bringing Peryn Bland to the plate with one out and a runner on first.

Just after the Patriots had hit their second and third home runs of the game to steal away Thompson’s 4-2 lead a half inning earlier, Bland stepped into the batter’s box built for the moment.

On the second pitch he saw, he blasted a home run deep to left field that carried over the fence for a two-run shot to put Thompson back in front 6-5.

Two outs followed, sending the Warriors into the bottom of the seventh needing three outs with freshman pitcher Ashton Blair taking the mound looking to keep the team’s postseason alive.

Blair walked the first batter and hit the second before a sac bunt moved both into scoring position with one out. An intentional walk then loaded the bases and put a forced out at every base.

In a pressure-packed situation where a base hit could win it for Bob Jones and a double play could end it for the Warriors, the Patriots got a rocket off the bat of Sam Jones, who had already homered once.

The ball, however, was lined right at Thompson shortstop Zachary Wyatt for the out, while the runner on third got too broke toward home, leading to a throw from Wyatt to third for the game-ending double play.

Thompson players sprinted onto the field in celebration, while confetti sprayed from the stands, as the Warriors held on for a 6-5 win to advance to the Class 7A semifinals.

After Perez took a minute to kneel down in the outfield in prayer with emotions overcoming him and his kids running up to him for a hug, he talked about the tenacity of his players.

“They just don’t give up man. They just don’t give up,” Perez said. “Every time you have a chance to lead a group of guys like that with this coaching staff and these players, they just don’t quit. It’s an honor to coach them. “Bob Jones is very good. They are very, very, very good. It ended the way it should have—a nail biter between two great teams. I’m glad it went our way. I’m just proud. I’m going to enjoy this one.”

It capped off a thrilling back-and-forth battle between the two after they split the doubleheader the night before with Thompson winning game one 9-6 and Bob Jones winning game two 7-0 to force the rubber match.

In the series finale, the Warriors took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth after two miscues in the outfield from the Patriots led to a Drake McBride double and a Miles Mitchell RBI on a pop fly that hit the ground due to an error.

Bob Jones responded swiftly in the bottom half of the inning on a two-run home run from Coco Bush. With the wind blowing directly out, the ball carried just over the wall in left-center field.

Now trailing 2-1, Thompson answered right back in the top of the fifth. A one-out single from Ben Pearman put a runner on base, while a two-out walk from Smith put two aboard.

Ethan Crook then came up clutch with a line drive to center field that got down and scored the game-tying run.

That lead held up through the bottom half of the inning, and the Warriors came back to the plate looking for more in the top of the sixth.

A lead-off single from McBride got things started, while Tucker Arrington followed with an RBI triple, which was then followed by an RBI double from Miles Mitchell to make it 4-2 Thompson.

With no outs and a runner on second, Bob Jones was able to get three straight outs from there to limit the damage, which became crucial for the Patriots.

In the bottom of the sixth, they got a solo home run from Mitchell to get within one run. Then, after Bush was hit by a pitch, a two-run shot from Aidan Doyle pushed Bob Jones back in front by one run at 5-4.

The Warriors got out of the inning without any further damage, but now, their season was on the line and the momentum had been stolen away.

That’s when Perez gathered his team together, and they answered the bell in clutch fashion with Bland’s two-run home run and the defense backing up Blair as a freshman on the mound in the bottom of the seventh to preserve the win.

McBride led Thompson with three hits, while Arrington finished with two and one RBI. Bland added two RBIs to lead the way on his game-winning home run, while Crook and Mitchell finished with one hit and one RBI each.

Pearman got the start on the mound and went 5 1/3 innings, striking out six and giving up five runs on five hits and four walks in a strong game-three showing. Ben Ferrell got two important outs in the sixth inning, while Blair finished off the final three outs in the win.

Perez said he is proud of his coaches and players for helping transform the program, going from 19-19 last year to 30 games above .500 this year at 36-6 as the No. 1 team in Class 7A.

He credited Superintendent Dr. Wayne Vickers and the school board for much of the success.

“I want to make sure people understand, it takes a village to transform a program,” he said. “When Dr. Vickers brought me back home, he said, ‘What do you need?’ They created a way for me to not only bring in great coaches, but great teachers. I’m proud of these guys because I got AP chemistry teachers, AP math teachers, dual enrollment teachers. They teach their tails off, but they also coach and invest in their kids, and Dr. Vickers is the reason for it, because he asked what was needed to transform this program.”

Thompson will now host area foe Vestavia Hills in the Class 7A semifinals after going 2-1 against the Rebels in the regular season to win the area championship.