It’s a lot to ask of a freshman.
The pitching rotation has gotten much of the attention at Camp Hill this season, and deservedly so. But there for every game has been the Lions’ catcher: Jackson Thompson.
Now the freshman is tasked with winning just his sixth varsity playoff game ever when the Lions take on Rocky Grove for the PIAA Class 2A championship.
Thompson plays older than his years. Perhaps the bloodlines help — he’s the baby brother of L.K. and Robbie. The former won Camp Hill’s last two state titles (Class A) in 2008-09 as a middle infielder, and the latter was a quality shortstop who graduated in 2014 and went on to play at Dickinson. And then there’s the elder L.K. Thompson — the patriarch of the family played at Duke as a first baseman and outfielder.
“[Jackson’s] awesome,” Thursday’s expected starting pitcher Josh Goodyear said at Tuesday’s practice. “That’s just crazy how well-trained he was and how big and strong he was.”
“That young man, when I say he eats, sleeps and breathes baseball — he does,” coach Mike Acey said.
Thompson has been catching for several years. The first time he did it in youth leagues, he was hooked.
“Once I got into it I could never get away from it,” he said. “All the action — loved it.”
He was in a preseason competition with a senior and won the starting job, impressing teammates with his blocking ability and strong right arm. He calls the game and has the respect of the pitching staff, coaches and teammates.
“He’s as close to a five-tool player as I’ve had in a long time,” said Acey, a coach at various levels for 38 years.
It understandably took a few games — four, Thompson estimates — to feel like he belonged on varsity. But he’s shined since.
“Honestly, I just put my mind to [win the starting job], and whatever I put my mind to I can do,” he said.
“He’s a competitor,” senior captain Quinn Buffington said. “He’s a big freshman, he’s a physical freak. He likes to get after it, and that’s big, I like that, I appreciate that a lot.”
Thompson, who is batting .351 with 21 RBIs and nine runs this season (7-for-16, 2 runs, 6 RBIs this postseason), is already near 6 feet tall and has plenty on his frame to build with. He’s very likely to get college interested in a few years. He has commanded the Lions’ rotation to a 1.98 ERA and 192 strikeouts, calling every pitcher for a group several years his senior in most cases.
“Just be myself, take it one step at a time,” he said of his key this postseason.