It seemed like virtually every player on the diamond suffered from early-season jitters except Indiana junior Sean Thompson.
Thompson played a whale of a game in the Indians’ section opener, firing a two-hitter and crushing a two-run homer to fuel Indiana’s 3-1 win over Greensburg Salem in a WPIAL Section 2-AAA baseball game on a frigid Wednesday at S&T Bank Field.
Indiana, which improved to 3-0, will play host to Laurel Highlands today.
Thompson, a hard-throwing right-hander, struck out 13, walked just one and allowed no earned runs. He also finished 2-for-3 and drove in all of Indiana’s three runs.
“It’s always big to get a win in the section opener,” Thompson said. “Greensburg Salem came in ranked fourth in the WPIAL and we were kind of coming out of nowhere. It definitely felt good to get one on them early in the season.”
After striking out three of four batters in the top of the first inning, Thompson stepped to the plate with one out and Ryan Creps on first base. Sitting on a fastball, Thompson zeroed in on Pat Boyer’s heater and walloped the pitch over the 350-foot sign in center field to give the Indians a 2-0 lead.
“I always sit fastball and then try to adjust to the off-speed stuff. It worked for me there,” Thompson said.
“He had himself a day, at the plate and on the mound,” first-year Indiana coach Rob Stossel added. “I’ve been really happy with Sean’s approach at the plate. He’s been seeing more pitches and being more selective. He’s trying not to be such a free swinger, and I think it’s paying off for him so far. He’s had hits in every game. He had four hits in the first game and a couple more today. He’s really doing great.”
Everything unfolded ideally for Thompson until the Indians committed three straight errors and allowed the Golden Lions to load the bases with no outs in the top of the fourth.
Thompson would have amazingly escaped the jam unscathed had catcher Cole Shaffer not bobbled an exchange — according to the home plate umpire — on a groundball from third baseman Andrew Schultz on the next at-bat.
The controversial play resulted in Greensburg Salem’s Kyle Renk, who Schultz beat to the plate with his throw by at least two steps, scoring on a questionable call.
Thompson refused to allow the distractions and the adversity to rattle him and responded by inducing a flyout and a groundout on the game’s next two at-bats to preserve the Indians’ 2-1 lead.
An inning later, Danny Clark reached base on an error, advanced to second on a passed ball, and then scored on a base hit from Thompson. With one out, Thompson added a run-scoring single to drive in Clark from second and extend Indiana’s lead to 3-1.
“I think any time you can tack on an insurance run it kind of settles you a bit,” Stossel said. “You always have a sense of urgency to close out the game, but I think when the lead gets a little bit wider, that urgency gets a little less intense, especially when you’re talking about high school kids.”
The Golden Lions’ Greg Neumann spoiled Thompson’s bid for a no-hitter when he led off the top of the sixth with a sharp single up the middle.
The next batter, Colby Luttner, looped a base hit into shallow right field to start what appeared to be a Greensburg Salem rally.
But following a walk to the mound from Stossel, Thompson once again calmed down, and pitched his way out of the dilemma.
This time, Thompson prompted a flyout from Boyer and then forced back-to-back groundouts to stamp the win.
Boyer, who fired a four-hitter, struck out nine and walked two.
“It was a tough day to hit. Both pitchers were very, very tough,” Greensburg Salem coach Jim Stewart said. “We had some big opportunities in the fourth and sixth innings but we only came away with one run. We only have ourselves to blame for that. He (Thompson) definitely pitched a great game. I’ll give him that. But I can’t imagine us striking out 13 times ever again.”