By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- Darrell Thompson has adjusted quickly to the varsity baseball level.
In just a little over a year, the Sherando senior has gone from being just a regular player on the team to one of the aces, a team captain and simply one of the most valuable pieces to the squad.
"It's amazing how much that young man has matured in one season," Sherando coach Pepper Martin said. "From the point of last year, being a contributor to the success we had last year, to being not only one of our top starting pitchers, but to develop into the type of leader that he's developed into -- it's amazing. He should get a lot of credit for that."
Martin said he's not only been a great leader by example, but also vocally. Earlier this season, the left-handed Thompson took the time to work with a few of the left-handed junior varsity pitchers.
Thompson understands the value of being on the JV team, where he spent his first two years at Sherando. Thompson said he felt like he was ready to be on varsity as a sophomore, but looking back he realizes how valuable his JV time was.
"They told me to stay down so I could get more innings and it kind of paid off," Thompson said.
Once he moved up to varsity last year, Thompson developed into a solid starting pitcher for the Warriors.
He threw 24 1/3 innings, and went 2-2 with a 3.74 ERA and 35 strikeouts.
"It was just fun pitching at the varsity level and getting to see your name in the paper for the first time," Thompson said. "You feel accomplished, pretty much. I thought I did pretty well last year."
This season Thompson has come back even stronger on the mound. He is currently 5-0 for the Warriors. He struggled a little in Monday's 11-3 win over Skyline, but in his two previous starts he allowed only two hits.
He started on the mound for the Warriors in the season opener and had his best performance of the year. He helped lead the Warriors to a 2-1 win over a very solid Spotswood team. He had 10 strikeouts in the win and everything was working for him.
"I went to bed that night and that was pretty much all I could ask for," Thompson said of his win over Spotswood.
"He just had all three pitches working," Martin said of the Spotswood game. "That might be the highest, velocity-wise, his fastball's been this season. It had a lot of movement on it. His change-up was nasty, his curveball was biting. That was his most dominating performance this year."
While that was the most dominant Thompson's been, he had an equally impressive performance against Handley on March 30.
Thompson threw a six-inning no-hitter in the Warriors' 15-1 win.
Thompson said he and the coaching staff weren't even aware that he had a no-hitter going until Martin was about to take him out of the game to start the sixth. At that time, Thompson's dad came down and told them he had a no-hitter going. Thompson had only thrown 69 pitches and said the fact that he almost got pulled from the game gave him a little extra edge in the final inning.
"I'm one of those pitchers, I want to go until at least 100 or so," Thompson said. "I was like, 'You're taking me out at 69?' So I had a little steam on me. Then when I saw they had some pinch-hitters coming I was like, 'OK, I just need to settle in and do my thing.'"
Thompson said he's always been really competitive, and that's helped him out on the mound.
If he gets into jams, he's able to get out of them through sheer determination.
"When he has his best stuff, he's very difficult to handle," Martin said. "But when he doesn't have his best stuff, he just gets by on his competitive spirit and being a bulldog on the mound. He's a winning pitcher without his best stuff, but with his best stuff he's a dominating pitcher."
Martin said Thompson is also one of the team's best outfielders, and can make some really good plays for the Warriors in right field.
However, on the mound is where Thompson feels most comfortable. He, along with teammate Tre Porter, gives Sherando a very strong 1-2 punch. Martin said he considers them 1A and 1B, instead of a No. 1 or No. 2 starter.
"He, along with Tre, gives us, in my opinion, the top two starting pitchers in the district," Martin said. "You can have a team that's really explosive offensively, have team speed, but pitching is what wins you championships."
Thompson has a strong curveball and change-up, but he said his fastball is still his favorite pitch to throw.
"I'm a fastball guy," Thompson said. "I like to beat 'em with a fastball, make 'em hit it."
The tall and lanky Thompson said he also likes to take a little extra time warming up before games, because he has a rubber arm and it takes him a little longer to get warmed up good. That's one of the reasons he tends to get stronger as the game goes on.
Once he's out on the mound, Thompson said he tries to not think about anything except throwing strikes. Thompson said getting ahead in counts has been one of the biggest improvements in his game this season.
"Getting ahead of the hitters is the main thing," Thompson said. "It's a mindset that you want to have because if you get that first-pitch strike, it just makes the rest of the at-bat so much easier on you. That way, you can play with the other pitches and you don't fall behind."
Thompson said he hasn't decided where he's going to college to play, but he's leaning toward Shenandoah University.
The Warriors are off to a 10-2 start this season, and have lost one game in the district. Knowing it's his last season of high school, Thompson said he wants to make the most of it.
"We want states, but we know have to take it game by game," Thompson said. "If we play to our potential, I feel like we can beat any team that's out there."