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Binghamton, NY - The New Haven Ravens have what is by far the best offense in the Eastern League during the first month of the Class AA baseball season.
Rich Thompson's job has been to get that high-powered offense started.
The Montrose graduate is doing his usual efficient job in the leadoff position. As April came to a close, Thompson was tied for second in the EL in runs scored.
"The biggest thing for me is to just get on first base," said Thompson, who batted .321 with four walks and 19 runs in 19 games for the first month of the season. "From there, I can score on one swing of the bat.
"We have a nice potent offense."
The Ravens jumped out to the EL Northern Division lead by averaging more than six runs per game. The Toronto Blue Jays Class AA affiliate, which was changed from Tennessee of the Southern League after last season, was hitting .312 as a team while no one else in the league was higher than .275.
When it is necessary to move himself along one base at a time, Thompson has the speed to do so. He started the season with a 12-game hitting streak and seven straight successful stolen base attempts.
The strong start was a necessity for Thompson. In his second season at AA, he is part of a team that has three first-round draft picks in the outfield.
"We have five good outfielders,' said Thompson, a sixth-round draft pick out of James Madison in 2000. "I could be the victim of circumstances, but I am getting plenty of at-bats. I just have to make the most of them.
"I've been the (designated hitter) a lot because there's not enough room for all of us in the outfield. The important thing is I am getting the at-bats. I just have to work on fly balls in batting practice."
Getting attention while playing with three top picks can be an imposing task.
Thompson, however, knows all about trying to make an impression.
As a freshman who had transferred from Mountain View in eighth grade, Thompson was cut from the Montrose junior varsity baseball team. George Arnold, the father of one of Thompson's friends, convinced the coach, the late Bucky Allen, to take a closer look at the new kid.
"The tryouts were in the high school gym for a week, there was not much for him to go on," Thompson said. "It was my first year at the school. I hadn't played in the local Little League.
"I had played all my summer baseball in the Hop Bottom area."
Thompson is grateful that Allen, who passed away right before he was drafted, was willing to think twice about his potential.
By the time he left high school, Thompson's speed in the outfield and on the bases was getting attention. A successful career at James Madison led to the Toronto organization, where he was briefly called up to Syracuse of the Class AAA International League at the end of an all-star 2001 season with Dunedin of the Florida State League.
"That was my best pro season so far," Thompson said.
He was again among the league leaders in runs scored last season with Tennessee in the Southern League.
"It was a good year, but nothing that warranted a guaranteed promotion," Thompson said.
Thompson is busy this season trying to earn that more extended promotion to the next step in professional baseball.
WEEK IN REVIEW
Ray Emery made 26 saves as the Binghamton Senators recovered from two straight losses to regain the lead in their Calder Cup Eastern Conference semifinal series with a 3-0 shutout of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers Saturday night.
The Senators won all three home games in the best-of-five series to take a 3-2 lead.
Josh Langfeld scored the game-winner on a second-period, power-play goal Saturday. Chris Bala and Chris Kelly added goals in the third period.
Bridgeport won at home earlier in the week, 5-0 and 3-2. Trent Hunter's goal with 21.4 seconds left in regulation Friday helped the Sound Tigers even the series before going back to Binghamton.
The Grand Rapids Griffins, who eliminated the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers in the Western Conference quarterfinals, kept rolling. The Griffins swept the defending champion Chicago Wolves, 4-0, giving up just two goals in the last three games of the series.
The Pittsburgh Penguins announced Friday that they have fired Glenn Patrick, the only coach Wilkes-Barre/Scranton had in the franchise's four-year history.
"It's news that isn't surprising," said Patrick, whose teams went 115-152-38-15 in the regular season and 16-11 in two trips to the playoffs. "The organization is going in a different direction now with a lot of young guys, and I've been criticized for a lack of communication with the young guys."
In professional baseball, Thompson went 2-for-4 and scored two runs in his first game ever in Binghamton.
"It was real nice to play here," Thompson said. "I was happy when I heard we were going to the Eastern League."
Thompson went into his first dry spell, going 1-for-13 in four games the rest of the week, including 0-for-4 in the first game of a doubleheader Wednesday in Binghamton. His average stands at an even .300.
In high school sports, Blue Ridge improved the county's best record in three spring sports.
The Raiders remained undefeated in softball with four wins.
Blue Ridge defeated Mountain View, 15-0; Valley View, 3-0; and Western Wayne, 5-0, to improve to 7-0 with just two runs allowed.
Elk Lake, which is second to Blue Ridge in the Lackawanna League Class A North, found a way to score more than those other seven teams combined but fell short, 7-3.
Blue Ridge improved to 7-1 in both boys' and girls' track with sweeps of Mid Valley and Carbondale. The boys beat Mid Valley, 109-36, before squeezing past Carbondale, 75-71. The girls beat Mid Valley, 109-35, and Carbondale, 98-51.
The Blue Ridge baseball team snapped a three-game losing streak to move back over .500 with an 11-1 romp over Carbondale Sacred Heart.
Elk Lake, the county's top baseball team, also has the best record among all Lackawanna League Class A teams after. The Warriors bounced back from a loss to Old Forge the previous week to beat Riverside, 10-3, in a matchup of division leaders.
In Saturday's Wilkes-Barre Track and Field Invitational, Elk Lake's Jessica Squier and Montrose's Joe LaBarbera each came away with gold medals.
The event draws more than 20 teams.
Squier won the 1600 meters in 5:25.0.
LaBarbera won the pole vault.
After trying to lock up second place in Division II of the Lackawanna League in their Monday meet against Dunmore, the Blue Ridge track teams will compete in Thursday's Jordan Relays at Scranton Memorial Stadium.
The Lady Raiders play their two strongest competitors in softball over three straight days with games scheduled Tuesday at home against Lackawanna Trail, Wednesday at Elk Lake and Thursday at Lackawanna Trail.
If the Binghamton Senators need a seventh game in their series with Bridgeport, it will be Tuesday night at the Broome County Arena.
Two County athletes are part of Keystone College's record-breaking baseball season.
The Giants have 45 wins this season for a school record and the highest total in the nation among National Junior College Athletic Association Division III schools. The team's fourth ranking nationally is the best in school history.
Jeremy Pierson, a freshman from Elk Lake, has set a Keystone record by winning 10 games this season. He has just one loss, a save and the nation's top earned run average at 1.24. He averages 11 strikeouts per nine innings.
Pierson's season is highlighted by a 13-strikeout, no-hitter against Luzerne County Community College April 17. He did not allow a ball out of the infield in the game.
Matt Treible, a sophomore pitcher/outfielder, is 3-2 on the mound.
Pierson and Mountain View graduate Nicole Zapolski were honored at Keystone's athletic banquet Wednesday.
Zapolski, a basketball all-star, received the Keystonian Award as the top sophomore female athlete.
Pierson received the M.W. Wood Award as the top freshman male athlete.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached on-line at RobbyTR@aol.com.
NEMECHEK Gets Rain-Shortened 400
Richmond, VA Joe Nemechek won Saturday night's rain-shortened Winston Cup Pontiac Excitement 400 after the race was halted because of heavy showers with seven laps to go.
Bobby Labonte was second, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Robby Gordon and Mark Martin.
Jeff Gordon and Nemechek were two of a handful of drivers that decided to stay on the track during a caution with 100-laps remaining. When racing resumed Gordon was leading, with Nemechek back in fifth.
On lap 330, Nemechek passed Gordon for the lead, and began to pull away on the 0.75-mile oval. At one point, Nemechek had a two-second lead over his pursuers.
During lap 363 Dale Jarrett spun bringing out another caution. There were three more restarts, but each time, Nemechek was able to hold on to his lead. Labonte and Earnhardt Jr. battled each other for several laps before Labonte was able to move into the second spot.
"When you get a car that'll go that good - high, low, wherever you want it to go - it is fun," said Nemechek. "We've been so close to winning and here we are. I'm real proud of this entire UAW team and this Chevrolet was awesome all night.
"We had to stop. We couldn't take a chance on running out of gas. Everything came back our way. The car was actually a little bit freer on taking two tires. I was actually expecting it to be tight. But man, it run just as fast. It didn't seem like it mattered what we did to this UAW Chevrolet. It was going to go to the front."
Bobby Labonte, the second-place finisher had a good car, but he also brushed the wall once.
"Unless something happened and he slipped up the racetrack or something like that, I couldn't have done anything with him," said Labonte. "My car was a little bit tight and his car looked a little bit better than mine.
"I clobbered the wall one time by myself. That was full contact with just me. But, the rest of the time wasn't too bad. I saw some contact in front of me sometimes. But, the groove on the bottom was really loose tonight and the groove in the middle of the racetrack was really good. You didn't want to get too high because it was like 'no man's land.' You could go low, but you might not be able to complete the pass, so a lot of guys were trying that. Everybody runs about the same speed anymore. It's just so close. You've got to wait for a guy. If he bobbles a little bit you can take advantage of it."
Top ten finishing order: 1. Joe Nemechek, 2. Bobby Labonte, 3. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 4. Robby Gordon, 5. Mark Martin, 6. Kevin Harvick, 7. Matt Kenseth, 8. Kurt Busch, 9. Jeff Burton, 10. Rusty Wallace.
Top-10 points leaders after 11 of 36 races: 1. Kenseth-1619, 2. Earnhardt Jr.-1599, 3. Busch-1452, 4. J. Gordon-1441, 5. B. Labonte-1376, 6. Johnson-1372, 7. Waltrip-1361, 8. Harvick-1328, 9. R. Wallace-1274, 10. Marlin-1259.
NADEAU Still Critical But Talkative Winston Cup driver Jerry Nadeau, who was injured in practice Friday, was still listed in critical condition at a Richmond hospital.
"Jerry and his wife, Jada's family are all with him," said Jay Frye, general manager of MBS/MBV Motorsports. Jada's mom and the baby are still in Spartanburg. They're coming up Monday.
"Jerry's vital signs are very good. He remains in critical condition with head, lung and rib injuries. His evaluation is ongoing, which is standard operating procedure for the hospital. The hospital has been phenomenal -everything they've done. He's in great, great care.
"With all the testing they're doing, they have him sedated. They don't want him moving around, so that's it. He's sedated.
"He looked great. Once I went in to see him and left, it made a world of difference to me. You go in not knowing what to expect. Then you see - 'There's your guy. Everything is OK. He's going to be fine.' Again, I'm not a doctor. We don't know that. He's in critical condition.
"Every indication we have is that there was nothing mechanical that happened to the car. We were having a great practice. We were going very fast. It was just one of those things that happened. It was an accident."
HARVICK Wins Hardees 250 At Richmond Winston Cup driver Kevin Harvick won the Busch Series Hardees 250 that saw a record 14 cautions for 93 laps in the 250-lap race.
Top ten finishing order: 1. Kevin Harvick, 2. Scott Riggs, 3. Tony Raines, 4. Michael Waltrip, 5. Scott Wimmer, 6. Johnny Sauter, 7. Stacy Compton, 8. Shane Hmiel, 9. David Green, 10. Bobby Hamilton, Jr.
Top-10 points leaders after 10 of 34 races: 1. T. Bodine-1351, 2. D. Green-1311, 3. Hmiel-1307, 4. Hornaday-1294, 5. Riggs-1233, 6. Keller-1222, 7. Bliss-1209, 8. J. Sauter-1201, 9. Kahne-1163, 10. Vickers-1131.
HAMILTON Is Truck Leader Top-10 points leaders after 4 of 25 races: 1. Hamilton-670, 2. Crawford-631, 3. Gaughan-594, 4. Musgrave-591, 5. Setzer-590, 6. Kvapil-569, 7. Cook-557, 8. Pressley-551, 9. J. Wood-520, 10. Leffler-514.
Because of Mother's Day, the only major NASCAR race is the Busch Series. Both the Winston Cup and Craftsman Trucks have the weekend off.
Saturday, May 10: NASCAR Busch Series, Charter Pipeline 250, race 11 of 34, 200 laps/250 miles, 2:30 p.m. TV: FX Sports Channel.
Racing Trivia Question: What was Davey Allison's car number?
Answer To Last Week's Question: There are six drivers running for Winston Cup rookie of the year. They are: Greg Biffle, Larry Foyt, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Tony Raines, and Jack Sprague.
Gerald Hodges/the Racing Reporter is a syndicated NASCAR columnist. If you have a racing question that you would like answered send it to The Racing Reporter, P.O. Box 160711, Mobile, AL, 36616, or e-mail it to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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