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Screven's Thompson becoming an ace
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    SYLVANIA — This time last year, Screven County pitcher Marla Thompson was starting for the Lady Gamecocks’ middle school team. Now in the middle of the 2007 season, Thompson — just a freshman — has thrown every pitch for the varsity squad, and has led it to a 6-4 record (4-2, Region 3-AA).
    Thompson started pitching three years ago, and now she has helped put the team right in the mix at the top of the region. Having already beaten No. 2 Southeast Bulloch, the Gamecocks are in third behind SEB and first-place Metter.
    The level of hitting and defensive play is much higher at the varsity level, so the freshman has had to adjust quickly. Was it intimidating for the young pitcher?
    “A little bit,” said Thompson. “But I always know I’ve got somebody behind me and they’re always picking me up, so I don’t have to worry about that so much.”
    Screven coach Billy Pollock had a decision to make before the season started, and deciding to allow Thompson to get the pitching role was an easy one to make.
    “During preseason workouts and during the summer, she worked real hard,” said Pollock. “She pitched exceptionally well. She just kind of stepped in and picked up where (2006 starter Elizabeth) Poythress left off. She throws a lot of strikes, and that is the name of this game.”
    As the season has progressed, Thompson has earned the right to call her own game. The first eight games of the season, the coaching staff called the pitches, but as she has developed, she has gotten a feel for making some decisions on the mound.
    “We worked with her for eight games and during the summer calling pitches,” Pollock said. “She knows what she wants and she knows what she’s comfortable with. That’s why we sort of let it go.”
    Thompson sites a solid Gamecock defense to back her up when she is put into pressure situations.
    “It’s really nice because it gives you a little room to breathe,” said Thompson. “If one person makes an error, it seems like someone else is going to step up and make up for it.”
    Pollock appreciates the dedication and hard work of his entire team, and he feels that the amount of effort during practice time — where SCHS dedicates at least two thirds of its time to defense — has helped take the pressure off of his young pitcher.
    “Any time you play this game, you’ve got to be able to throw them out. The other eight people out there, they’ve got to be able to play behind their pitcher,” said the defensive-minded coach. “I don’t care how good of a pitcher you’ve got. We’re going to face teams that are going to put the ball in play, and you’ve got to be able to play defense.”
    Losing in the final eight of the 2006 state playoffs due to a 1-0 loss to Savannah Christian — where the lone run was due to a fielding error — has taught Pollock that you can never over-emphasize the importance of solid defensive play.
    “I am a coach that believes in the philosophy of, ‘If they can’t score, we can’t lose’,” said Pollock.
    With a home victory against winless Laney today, the Gamecocks would move into second in the region as Southeast Bulloch and Metter — both with one region loss — will play each other.
    From there, the young Screven pitcher and the rest of the Lady Gamecocks look forward to what could prove a battle for the top of Region 3-AA.

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.