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May 9, 2010

Full steam ahead for GI's Tomkins

By Brandon Koch Niagara Gazette


Grand Island pitcher Ben Tomkins has had a rather roller coaster start to his junior season.

Not only has the three-sport athlete struggled at the plate, but he recently surrendered seven runs in two innings of work against Kenmore East in what Vikings coach Dean Santorio calls Tomkins’ worst outing of his young career.

But as the old cliché goes, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

Tomkins rebounded firmly last Wednesday in a critical 4-1 defeat of Niagara Frontier League counterpart Niagara-Wheatfield. The righthander tossed a complete-game in a contest shortened by inclement weather, allowing just the single run.

“He’s frustrated, but he’s a battler just like he did on the mound (that day),” Santorio said after the win over the Falcons. “He’s had some bad luck. He’s hit the ball hard a number of times. It’s frustrating for him.”

And while his pitching numbers have lagged, he hasn’t been able to establish himself at the plate, either, as he’s batting around .160, Santorio said.

But contact isn’t the issue. It’s finding a gap, and well, a little bit of luck, too.

“No one likes being in a slump, especially when I’ve been hitting the ball,” said Tomkins, who improved to 2-1 on the mound with the victory Wednesday. “It’s just been at people so that doesn’t add to it. Sooner or later it’s going to have to hit a hole, so I’m not too worried about it.”

Entering the season, the Vikings were to rely on an experienced and talented pitching staff, headlined by Tomkins and senior star Joel Klock.

Although Tomkins may not have the jaw-dropping stuff such as a teammate like Klock, Santorio said his junior pitcher’s best attributes are playing to his strengths.

“Ben, in any sport he plays, is not flashy. He doesn’t do things that make you say, ‘wow, that’s unbelievable,”’ the coach said. “But he does every little thing well. Anything he has to do, he does it well.”

Santorio added Tomkins usually pitches best when he keeps the ball down in the strike zone. As long as he maintains that location, he’s able to leave the rest up to his defense to corral a routine ground ball or lazy pop up.

Tomkins agreed.

“That’s definitely what I focus on,” said Tomkins, who went 5-1 on the mound last year including a win in the Class A Championship game against Albion. “I keep it low and have it ground out or fly out because I know I’m not going to overpower people.”

As for his play at the plate, he’s confident he’ll soon be a consistent contributor to the hit department for the Vikings, who enter today’s home date with Lew-Port with a 7-1 NFL record. Last season as a sophomore, he maintained an average above .300.

“I feel like we’re going to do well,” Tomkins said of his team going forward. “For myself, I’m hoping to get out of my slump soon. Everyone has just been playing good. We’ve been hitting the ball; we’ve been fielding well, so I think we will finish good.”

Tomkins has no problem putting his current hitting woes behind him, just like he already deposited the turbulent outing against Ken East as part of the distant past. Tomkins and the Vikings have just one goal on their minds — to repeat.

“Hopefully,” he said with a smile. “We all hope to get back-to-back championships. That would be real nice.”

Ben Tomkins

• SCHOOL: Grand Island

• YEAR: Junior

• POSITION: Pitcher, third base 

• QUOTE: “He does every little thing well. Anything he has to do, he does it well.”

— Dean Santorio