Photographs by J.T. Wampler
Blake Thompson eyes third base Saturday during the 7A State baseball semifinal game against Fayetteville. Har-Ber is playing for its first state championship today.
Friday, May 19, 2017
SPRINGDALE — When Springdale Har-Ber’s Blake Thompson takes the field at Baum Stadium today, it won’t be the senior outfielder’s first time.
At A Glance
SCHOOL Springdale Har-Ber CLASS Senior
POSITION Outfielder NOTABLE After primarily serving as a role player as a junior, Thompson has been a catalyst for Har-Ber’s state finals run this year. … He is hitting .480 in Har-Ber’s last 15 games, and has at least one hit in all but one game in that span. … He is tied for the team lead in hit-by-pitches. Har-Ber is 18-3 this season when Thompson scores.
Thompson has one distinct memory of George Cole Field from his time with the Midwest Nationals baseball program: big outfield. And that could play to his strengths against Cabot (24-7) in the class 7A baseball finals.
Har-Ber coach Ron Bradley marveled at the rightfielder’s knack for extra-base hits, particularly triples. Thompson has seven this season and, in one threegame stretch, hit five.
“He’s had a great year. He did something in a game I’ve never seen in my 39 years of coaching — he hit three triples in a row in a game,” Bradley said. “I don’t know how many times that’s ever been done.”
In a 9-3 win against Springfield Kickapoo (Mo.) on April 15, Thompson went 3-for-4 with three triples, knocked in two runs and scored three times himself, running his hitting streak, then, to six games. That game epitomizes the run Thompson has been on in Har-Ber’s last 15 games.
Since April 11, Thompson is 25-for-52 (.480) and has recorded at least one hit in 14 of 15 games. He has six triples and six multi-hit games in that span, driving in 12 runs while also scoring 19 times. Thompson crossing the plate bodes well for Har-Ber (22-9) this season, as the Wildcats are 18-3 when he does so.
“It’s part of my leadoff role to get on base and let the 2-3-4 guys move you in when you get on,” Thompson said. “I’m actually tied for the team lead with seven hit-bypitches, too.”
But prior to his hot streak, Thompson battled himself, mentally, at the plate. In Har-Ber’s first 16 games of the season, he hit just .260. He points to the Wildcats’ spring break trip to Panama City, Fla., as the base of his struggles, but called on past experiences to pull himself from the slump.
“I struggled hitting and the team just struggled,” he said. “But I overcame it. I was thinking too much, thinking about stats too much instead of just playing the game. One hit just kind of led to another.
“I started going up to the plate with a relaxed approach. I’m not trying to worry too much, just going up relaxed and sitting on fastball. There’s always slumps in baseball, but it just takes times. It’s a game of failure, you know.”
Things began to click in conference play against Bentonville West, where he kicked off a 10-game hitting streak. Late in the regular season, he recorded seven hits in eight at-bats against rival Fayetteville, who Har-Ber took down, 8-1, to reach the state championship game. Thompson went 1-for-2 against the Purple’Dogs in the state semifinals.
“It felt really good (beating Fayetteville) because they beat us in football, so it was just good beating them,” he said. “Our volleyball team lost to them, football lost to them. It was great to move on and beat them.”
Thompson admitted he didn’t know how well he would sleep Thursday night anticipating his return to Baum as Har-Ber plays for its first baseball title. But he and teammate Hunter Mueller, though, have dreamed all week of the would-be celebration after the final out.
“The thing is, he’s coming off a junior year when he was just a role player and he’s come in this year and been a catalyst and a leader on our ballclub,” Bradley said of Thompson.
“He’s the type of young man when you look back at a program, like ours, and that process it takes to get there its paid off for him.”
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