The first six innings had gone by swiftly enough for West Forsyth starting pitcher Jay Thompson, a ho-hum operation with just a hiccup in the middle, so the junior lefty made the last crucial inning of a tight county and region rivalry game feel just as mundane: seven pitches, three groundball outs and a 2-1 victory in just over an hour against South Forsyth on Wednesday to finish off a season sweep.
Thompson’s seven dominant innings and Mason McWhorter’s first inning two-run homer helped the Wolverines (13-9, 11-3) remain within striking distance of first-place Lambert in Region 6-AAAAAA and tied in second place with Northview as crucial series loom against playoff contenders Johns Creek and North Forsyth.
“We knew this was going to be big,” West Forsyth head coach Mike Pruitt said. “We had to get two from South because Johns Creek is going to be awful tough, and North Forsyth is just going to be North Forsyth. Only four games left, but there is still a lot to be determined.”
A year ago, Thompson got lost within the depth and experience of the Wolverines’ pitching staff. West had senior Addison Albright, who went on to sign with the University of Georgia, and senior Derrick Pickvet, who went on to be selected co-county pitcher of the year. Hank Flood emerged, and Lucas Ellenberg was strong early in relief. As the season wore on, and the staff found a rhythm, opportunities for Thompson to arise dissipated.
Thompson wasted no time making his case to be featured more prominently this season: in his first start in late February, he struck out 10 against Class AAA powerhouse Blessed Trinity.
“I don’t know many people who’ve done that against them,” Pruitt said. “He earned that spot.”
Thompson ran with it. Aside from a shaky two-game stretch, the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder has been a pleasant development for West after the graduation of Albright and Pickvet. Wednesday’s win improved the junior’s record to 3-2 through seven starts and his ERA to 2.04 in 34 1/3 innings.
“I got more of a chance this year and just wanted to show coach what I can do,” Thompson said.
Wednesday was perhaps Thompson’s most dominant display of what he can do; if not, it was at least the most efficient. He allowed just two hits and two walks and struck out four in seven complete innings. Three times he threw less than 10 pitches in an inning: nine in the second, seven in the seventh, and five in the fourth to finish with 75 total.
South (12-10, 6-8) moved a runner into scoring position just once when Alex Andronica singled in the first and stole second. But Thompson got Landon Sims to line out and Max Schmal to fly out to end the threat.
Thompson’s lone mistake was a 1-0 fastball in the top of the fourth that South’s Alec Kliphouse smashed over the left-field wall. Otherwise, Thompson used a heavy dose of breaking balls and changeups with a capable fastball to subdue a South lineup that had scored eight runs against the Wolverines just two days before. After Kliphouse’s home run, Thompson retired nine of the final 10 batters he faced to end the game.
“You got to mix it up with South,” Thompson said. “They’re a very good hitting team.”
McWhorter gave Thompson the luxury of a lead in the first inning. After Thomas Arundale worked a four-pitch walk against South starter Ben Ferrer, the Wolverines’ slugging senior and Georgia Southern signee crushed the first pitch offered for a two-run home run, his seventh of the season.
Ferrer allowed just one hit the rest of the way. The sophomore righty retired 16 of the final 17 batters he faced in an impressive display of efficiency in his own right. He threw just 71 pitches in six innings allowing only one walk while striking out six.
“So proud,” South head coach Russ Bayer said. “The kid’s a bulldog, man.”