By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
WAXAHACHIE — The script couldn’t have been written much better as the Indians dogpiled their ace Tuesday evening at historic Paul Richards Park.
In an age where student-athletes and families flock to the “next” opportunity, high school or select team, Waxahachie senior Jared Thomas has remained invested in the Indian program. Tuesday night, he flung his glove into the air, spiked his hat into the perfectly manicured natural grass and celebrated a 17-strikeout no-hitter.
The feat came on Senior Night and after just 86 pitches (65 for strikes) over 7.0 innings of work. The 6-0 District 11-6A victory clinched a playoff berth for the (14-10-1) Waxahachie Indians, following an uninspiring 2-4 start to the district slate.
It wasn’t too long ago that JT, as the University of Texas-signee has been affectionately referred to, was a junior high student within the district and working behind the counter at Hilltop Lanes distributing shoes. Heck, to that thought of program and community buy-in, what other future Major League Baseball draft pick can you recall running the spirit flags after every score on Friday nights for the football team? A celebration on the diamond was certainly warranted — for JT and Indians, a group that has battled through various injuries and missed time to return to the postseason.
Thomas is the unquestioned leader within the Indian clubhouse. He’s the first to greet the loyal fans before the pro scouts (even when there are several in attendance for batting practice) and encourages underclassmen regularly, both from the dugout and on the field.
And he’ll be the workhorse on the mound for the Indians as they begin their final march toward Round Rock under longtime head coach Tracey Wood. The head coach with over 600 career wins announced his retirement ahead of the 2022 season. This will also be the final ride for even-longer-timed assistant coach Jim Miller, who is responsible for calling the pitches by way of his iconic multicolored square of squares.
Thomas will start game 1 on the road against Bryan at 7 p.m. Friday. Game two and three (if necessary) will be played at Richards Park on Saturday, with game two starting at 2 p.m.
Thomas will likely start every game one (or single game following a lucky coin flip) until the Indians are either marked off of the playoff bracket or end up on top in Round Rock.
But we digress — back to the history that’s already happened.
Before taking a question following Tuesday’s no-no, Thomas stood a bit slumped with his hat slightly cocked to the right, arms wrapped around the faded-green padded dugout railing and allowed the moment to sink in.
“I looked up there in the fourth inning, had a lot of confidence in myself and knew they weren’t really seeing my stuff,” he said while never breaking eye contact with the scoreboard in left field that still brightly showed a 0 in the DeSoto Eagles hit column.
Thomas had all of his offspeed pitches cooking during the no-no. He continually buried his hammer of a curveball and changeup in the dirt and allowed the fastball to play high. The approach and stuff resulted in his 17 strikeouts over 7.0 IP.
Two passed balls (both buried in the dirt) in the second and fourth innings allowed for Thomas to strike out four Eagles in each frame. He ultimately struck out the side on nine pitches in the top of the seventh inning to complete the feat in front of several dozen Indian alumni, as Tuesday was also Alumni Night for former Tribe ballplayers.
Among those alumni in attendance were former standout pitchers Randy Moseley and Colton Cain. Moseley recorded the win for the Indians in the 1965 3A state championship against some guy named Nolan Ryan and the Alvin Yellowjackets. Cain, meanwhile, tossed the first no-hitter for Wood during his first season as the Indians’ skipper in 2008 before going on to be drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009.
“I was mixing everything up and throwing everything for a strike tonight, so in that fourth inning and definitely into the sixth, I knew there was a chance,” Thomas added.
Thomas joked that he almost received a dreaded jinx in the bottom of the sixth inning. That blame nearly fell on an underclassman who was keeping track of Thomas’ pitch count.
“He called me over, and I knew he was going to say something to me, so I just asked, ‘What’s my pitch count, dude? Just tell me my pitch count.'”
The sophomore replied with “77,” and Thomas walked away before any bad juju could be shared.
“I was afraid he was going to say something, so I just walked away,” Thomas laughed. He sat down the next three batters on strikes.
Thomas accomplished the feat following a wrist injury that kept him benched most of the season. He suffered it during a scrimmage and has only recently returned to full strength.
It’s now time to party in the postseason. And the Tribe has a chance to make a little noise.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith