Campbell pitcher stars despite modest fastball; Camels face Wolfpack on Tuesday

bhaines@newsobserver.comApril 21, 2014 

Campbell’s Ryan Thompson was Big South Pitcher of the Year last season (9-1, 0.88).

BENNETT SCARBOROUGH — Bennett Scarborough

Armed with a mid-80s fastball, Campbell right-hander Ryan Thompson does not possess bat-breaking heat, but that hasn’t stopped him from burning up batters. Thanks to his Dan Quisenberry-like delivery and a slider that has more action than a Michael Bay movie, the senior leads the nation with a minuscule 0.63 ERA and recently was placed on the 50-man Golden Spikes Award watch list, which honors the top amateur baseball players in the country.

Not bad for a kid with no colleges interested in him after he graduated from Cascade High in Turner, Ore.

“Honestly, I was not recruited by one Division I school out of high school,” Thompson said.

He wasn’t recruited by many after two years at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Ore., either, which led him to cross coasts and sign with Campbell despite never setting foot on campus.

“It’s kind of a crazy story. He never even came to Buies Creek for a visit. … The first time we ever saw him face-to-face was when he showed up on campus,” said Camels seventh-year coach Greg Goff. Assistant head coach Rick McCarty “saw him in a junior college (showcase) tournament and that’s all it was. There were only a few other smaller schools that even recruited Ryan.”

Thompson, who is 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, didn’t exactly help his cause during the tournament – he didn’t record an out. But somehow McCarty was able to look past his performance to see an ace stuck at the bottom of a deck of cards.

“The way (the tournament) worked was that all the pitchers would go out and face four batters, that’s it,” Thompson said. “And I went out there and let up four hits to four batters and I thought no one would sign me. I was devastated, but then coach McCarty gave me a call.”

Big South rival Liberty was the only other school that showed significant interest in Thompson, but the closer said he was swayed by the personal touch shown by McCarty.

“The way he recruited me really turned me on towards Campbell,” Thompson said. “He really seemed as if he cared about me, where Liberty seemed as if they just wanted my services.”

McCarty’s faith in Thompson was quickly rewarded. In his first year with the Camels, Thompson went 9-1, led the nation with a 0.88 ERA and tied the school record for saves with 10. He was named the Big South Pitcher of the Year and a Louisville Slugger second-team All-American.

Entering Tuesday’s game at N.C. State, Thompson is 4-1 and his 20 career saves are the most in school history.

Thompson’s 29-inning scoreless streak ended Saturday, when he allowed a three-run homer in the eighth inning during a loss to Radford. It was a rare blip on an otherwise All-American resume.

“Bigger schools are looking for guys with velocity for the most part, but I would say every one of them in the country would like to have him right now,” Goff said.

Thompson is able to overcome his lack of speed with a looping slider that is hard for hitters to detect because of his sidearm action. The pitch has so much movement that it has gained fame amongst his teammates for its orbital path to the plate.

“It’s a big breaking pitch. We joke around on the team; we call it the flying saucer,” Thompson said. “It’s a Frisbee action. If I throw it on the outside corner, it will start behind the hitter and end up in the (strike) zone.”

While Thompson’s style strays from traditional closers, his mentality doesn’t.

“When I come into the game it’s just a ‘lock-it-down’ mentality,” Thompson said. “It’s just ‘nobody is getting on base. Nobody’s scoring. I’m better than you and when it comes down to it I’m going to make my pitch and if you beat me on my pitch, then congratulations.’ 

With June’s Major League Baseball amateur draft fast approaching, Thompson knows his fastball again will come into question, but he is determined not to let that slow him down.

“If you don’t throw 95 (mph), people aren’t going to look at you the same,” Thompson said. “There’s probably pitchers right now in Division I ball that throw 95 and have a 6.00 ERA that will get drafted higher than me.

“I don’t know. We’ll see what happens, but I think if you throw the ball low in the zone and hit your spots it doesn’t matter how hard you throw.”

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