COLUMBIA, S.C.--Locked in a 1-1 tie in the eighth inning with Old Dominion, Campbell coach Greg Goff made the same call to the bullpen he’s made 38 times before in 2014. At this point, he probably doesn’t even need to say the name.
“Our guys are so confident when he’s in,” Goff said. “When we brought him in, (our players) felt like we were going to win. They felt like (ODU) was not going to score. That makes a big difference in this game--the confidence level.”
Thompson’s teammates were right. ODU didn’t score. Not in the eighth, or the ninth, or the … well, you get the idea.
The game stayed 1-1 until Campbell finally broke through for three runs in the top of the 12th. One would have been plenty. Thompson easily retired the Monarchs in the bottom of the 12th, his fifth scoreless inning of work, sealing the Camels’ first NCAA tournament win in program history and giving the No. 4 seed a chance to play on Sunday at the Columbia Regional.
Thompson led the nation in ERA last season at 0.88 and has been no less dominant in 2014, carrying a 6-2, 1.22 mark into Saturday, along with 17 saves. Five innings of work would ordinarily be an exceptional workload for a closer, but Thompson is an exceptional case. The senior righthander isn’t your fireballing closer who’s going to air it out for one inning and call it a day. No, Thompson’s a submariner who works in the low to mid-80s, pitching off a fastball that darts and dives and, above all, rarely gets squared up. His delivery starts with a high leg kick as well before he drops down, making him incredibly hard to time.
“As a righthander, it was just a little funky,” ODU second baseman Nick Walker said, “and especially when he was in the stretch, he was a little quick to the plate, even for lefties. We couldn’t adjust in time. He just made good pitches and made us swing and miss a lot.”
Thompson allowed just two baserunners against the Monarchs, one of them an intentional walk, and struck out five. Thompson’s fastball was its usual dastardly self on Saturday, but it also wasn’t his only weapon. He was able to mix in a little slider as well, allowing him to give hitters a different look and keep them off the fastball.
“My slider’s been awful lately,” Thompson said. “I got it back today, and it was a great feeling to be able to be just be me again.”
Thompson said this as if he’d been pitching badly coming into Saturday. Rather, all he did in the Camels’ run through the Big South Conference tournament was throw nine scoreless innings across five games. That earned him tournament MVP honors. He did give up two runs on Friday to No. 1 seed South Carolina, but nights like that have been rare.
“He’s hard to hit,” ODU coach Chris Finwood said. “He mixes pitches well. He’s got a lot of body movements that get you off trying to find that window the ball’s coming out of.”
Thompson threw 62 pitches Saturday, but is there any question he’ll be ready Sunday if needed?
“It’s my last go around,” Thompson said. “I’m a senior, so I’m going to do whatever I can to prepare myself. We’ve got one of the best athletic trainers in the nation, I fully believe that, so he’s gonna be working on me for a few hours tonight.”
“Sorry for him,” he added, laughing. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”
So will the Camels.