COLUMBIA — When Rock Bridge senior Sam Thompson grabbed the Class 5, District 10 championship trophy from Rock Bridge athletic director Jennifer Mast, Jefferson City fans had to be confused who the 6-foot-4 player with sandy blond hair was.
For most of Rock Bridge’s 53-39 win over the Jays on Sunday at Rock Bridge, Thompson could be found sitting between assistant coaches David Egan and Travis Gable grabbing a forest green towel, sometimes even chewing on it when the Jays (15-11) cut the lead to less than 10 points with three minutes to go.
Other times he was either too excited to sit down or grabbing water for every player who came out of the game. When junior Jordan Dressler, who led all scorers with 16 points, scored a basket and was fouled, Thompson jumped up and flung the green towel into the air in celebration.
“He’s always really into the game,” Egan said. “He’s really knowledgeable and notices things that sometimes coaches don’t even notice.”
Thompson’s most important job is calling out the plays the opposing team is about to run. Sometimes he calls out where the opposing team’s best players are when the Bruins (24-2) lose them. Sunday when a teammate lost Roland Mitchell, Jefferson City’s best player, on an inbounds play, Thompson yelled out where Mitchell was and before Mitchell could get the ball, he was covered. Another time, Thompson yelled out to his teammates to keep their feet moving.
“Our coaches do a good job scouting, so we know the plays they’re going to call,” said Thompson, who is a captain on the team. “I try to pay attention and relay any information I hear to my teammates.”
At the end of every quarter, Thompson is the first off the bench to exchange energy-filled high fives. During one stretch Sunday, junior Briton Rudd missed a layup and fumbled a rebound. When Rudd walked over to the bench during a timeout, Thompson was there to hand him a cup of water and gave him advice.
“He tells me to slow my play down,” Rudd said. “I play better when I slow down and he helps me not get going too fast.”
When Skylar Tolson made a 3-point shot at the buzzer to end the first half with a 25-16 Bruins lead, Thompson sprinted out and was the first to high five him and hit him in the back with his lucky green towel. Thompson never stops holding the towel during the game except when point guard Mike Petrik uses it to wipe sweat off himself because according to Thompson, Petrik’s sweat brings good luck.
“Last year, I was holding a towel against Liberty when we came back from 15 points down to win,” Thompson said. “I think I was holding it because I was so nervous, and I’ve held one every game since.”
Thompson never sits all the way back in his Rock Bridge chair. Choosing instead to sit on the edge, rocking it back and forth. That’s when he’s even sitting down. Thompson did a 360-degree spin and jumped with the towel flying in the air when he disagreed with a call. Sometimes what he says from the bench gets him in trouble.
“A ref came over and told me to keep my mouth shut, or he was going to give me a technical,” Thompson said. “I’ve been pretty quiet since then. I don’t think coach knew I was the one who was doing the yelling.”
Thompson played the final 38 seconds after the Bruins fought off the Jays late push.
“I was still loose from warmups, because I’m up so much during the game and my adrenaline keeps me going,” Thompson said.
The pressure was on from the minute he checked in with the student section yelling at him to shoot even from NBA 3-point range as he held the ball as the final seconds counted down on the Bruins’ third straight district championship.
“I’ve never been on the floor when we’ve won a district championship,” Thompson said. “It was definitely a neat feeling.”
It will be a Rock Bridge sectional doubleheader Wednesday at Union High School. The Bruins boys team will play after the girls team, which plays at 6 p.m. against Fort Zumwalt West. No. 7 Rock Bridge will play No. 6 Fort Zumwalt South at 7:45 p.m. The Bruins lost to Fort Zumwalt South in last year’s sectional game.