High School Baseball

Bats have Tompkins on hot tear to start season

By Dennis Silva II, Sports Editor
Posted 3/19/21

Tompkins junior center fielder Jace LaViolette doesn’t know what to think. He sees the Falcons with a 17-1-1 overall record, including a 3-0 start in District 19-6A play, ranked No. 3 in Class 6A in the state and No. 18 in the nation, and he’s still uncertain just how good the team is.

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High School Baseball

Bats have Tompkins on hot tear to start season

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Tompkins junior center fielder Jace LaViolette doesn’t know what to think. He sees the Falcons with a 17-1-1 overall record, including a 3-0 start in District 19-6A play, ranked No. 3 in Class 6A in the state and No. 18 in the nation, and he’s still uncertain just how good the team is.

The LSU commit doesn’t think his team knew it would be this good. Heck, LaViolette said, he won’t even say that the Falcons are that good.

“We still have so much to prove, and we still have a lot of good teams to play in this district,” LaViolette said. “We have to let our game do the talking.”

Their game is already saying a lot.

Tompkins has five run-ruled wins, and five more wins by seven runs or more. The offense has been exceptional. The Falcons have already put up 13, 12, 19, 16 and 38 runs in games this season. Yes, 38 runs. In five innings of work.

As a team, the Falcons are hitting .372 and striking out just once every seven at-bats.

“We’ve got the best lineup in the state,” senior leadoff hitter Will Stark said. “Our 7-through-9 hitters are better than some teams’ 1-through-3. It’s pretty dang good this year.”

Coach Kyle Humphreys, who has been at the helm of the program since 2015, said his players are seeing the ball well and laying off bad pitches.

“A lot of high school kids swing at a lot of pitches out of the zone, but these guys have good plate discipline,” Humphreys said. “They really do a good job.”

And it’s coming up and down the lineup. In an 8-1 win over Seven Lakes on Thursday, for instance, the Falcons pounded out 12 hits. Eight players had at least one hit, and four players had at least two: LaViolette, junior first baseman Jack Little, junior third baseman Cash Russell and junior right fielder Tyler Brownlee.

The Falcons are having a lot of success in two-strike hitting and working at-bats deep into counts, making the defense work.

“We’re getting up there with an approach every at-bat and hitting the ball hard,” Little said.

As hot as the bats have been, Humphreys said it’s the pitching that’s really coming around. Humphreys knew he’d have a good lineup coming into this season. Success would be dependent upon the pitching.

The results have been favorable.

Juniors Michael DeBattista and Solomon Rotberg were coming into their own as sophomores last year before the pandemic canceled the season. But they’ve picked up where they left off; DeBattista had a nice start against Seven Lakes, allowing one unearned run on two hits, striking out three and walking four in four innings.

LaViolette, who hardly pitched last year, has emerged as a valuable contributor out of the bullpen with his knack for throwing strikes. He pitched two scoreless innings of relief against Seven Lakes and struck out four. Humphreys said LaViolette’s size (he’s 6-foot-5) and delivery make it hard for hitters to track the ball coming out of his hand.

Sophomore Ty Dagley is another intriguing prospect, a lefty with a good three-pitch mix that keeps guys off-balance.

The most runs the Falcons have allowed in a game this year is six.

“I don’t want to jinx anything, but we’re hitting really well, and our pitching staff is throwing strikes and doing what we need,” LaViolette said. “The team chemistry is there. Everything’s rolling. It’s just about playing ball and having fun.”

Tompkins seemingly has what it takes to make a deep postseason run, but it isn’t without some concern. Only two seniors start—Wichita State signee Stark and Rice signee Graiden West—and that void of experience and know-how have made for some issues with errors and a lack of focus.

But the team’s talent, depth and competitive disposition are obvious. Players talk excitedly about making it to state. Humphreys, meanwhile, is reluctant to talk about a ceiling for his team, or its potential, or how far it can go.

But he knows he has a special group.

“I’ve never been that far (to state), so I don’t know,” Humphreys said. “The furthest we’ve been is round 3. But this team is a very talented group and they have the ability. When I first got here, we won eight games, and all I wanted was for the coach on the other side to say we played hard. Now we have the expectation to win, and other coaches are still telling us we play hard.

“This is a fun group to watch. They’re intense and focused. You have to rein them in sometimes, but they’re fun.”

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