West De Pere’s Hampton named freshman all-American
By Greg Bates
DE PERE – The first seven starts of Ben Hampton’s college baseball career couldn’t have gone much better.
The left-handed pitcher threw 20 1/3 innings, allowed seven runs on 11 hits and struck out 18 hitters.
More importantly, he helped West Virginia University win five of seven games during that stretch as Hampton himself went 3-0.
All that early-season success provided Hampton with plenty of confidence to help him have a great freshman year.
Hampton, a 2020 graduate of West De Pere High School, finished the season with a 4-3 record and a 4.83 ERA, striking out 47, compared to only 15 walks.
He pitched in 14 games, starting 10, and had 54 innings of work – second on the team.
For his efforts, Hampton was named a 2021 Perfect Game/Rawlings Freshman All-American.
“That was an honor to see that,” Hampton said. “Honestly, I didn’t even find out myself. I found out from a couple of teammates. I never thought about that while the season was going on – it was more about winning games. When the season ended and I saw that, that was an honor.”
West Virginia head baseball coach Randy Mazey watched Hampton gradually mature on the mound with each appearance.
“For a freshman to step in and pitch against the level of competition he pitched against, he did great,” Mazey said. “He had some quality starts in the Big 12 against some quality opponents. I thought he did great.”
Mazey said he liked what he saw from Hampton during his days at West De Pere, but his senior season was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Having that time away from high school competition helped Hampton.
He pitched in four games for the Green Bay Booyah and faced college players before he was even a collegiate athlete.
Mazey, who has been at West Virginia for nine seasons, said he didn’t quite know what to expect before the season with what he would get from Hampton.
“You never know when you recruit these guys,” Mazey said. “You know they’re good players, but you always see them in limited roles when you sign them. He was injured a bit coming in here last summer, so he didn’t throw as much as he should have in the fall. We didn’t have a great idea of what he was capable of until he got going in the springtime. Once he got going, he was good.”
It was Hampton’s goal ever since he was a junior in high school to step into a high-level college program and make a difference in his first year.
“I wanted to go to a big program where I thought I could play, and West Virginia was the perfect fit for me with the coaches and the great players who continued to help me develop,” Hampton, who was the Bay Conference pitcher of the year when he led West De Pere to state as a junior, said. “It was cool to play my freshman year. I got lots of good experience that will help set me up for success in these next few years at West Virginia.”
Hampton’s best outing of his young career came May 2 against visiting TCU.
He went 5 1/3 innings against the No. 5-ranked team in the nation and didn’t allow a run while scattering seven hits.
Unfortunately, Hampton took a no-decision as the West Virginia bullpen surrendered nine runs in the final three innings in a 9-1 loss.
“It’s a huge jump being able to adapt going all the way to Texas and Oklahoma – road trips are different than driving five minutes in high school,” Hampton said. “Being able to handle all that extra stress to the body and stress to your mind is key. Learning to pitch in front of bigger crowds, in front of fans who aren’t rooting for you and fans who are yelling at you.”
Hampton, who turned 19 Aug. 2, said he became a better pitcher during his first year competing in college.
He said he took the biggest step forward mentally and learned how to overcome adversity.
“Getting some confidence out there, feeling relaxed on the mound and not overthinking things,” Hampton said. “That was always one of my problems – when something would go wrong, I’d start to overthink out there.”
Hampton went to West Virginia as primarily a two-pitch thrower, relying on a fastball and curveball, but he added a slider about one-third of the way through the season, and it proved to be a good strikeout pitch.
He also started working on a changeup.
“I think a changeup would be huge as a left-handed pitcher, throwing it to right-handed batters,” Hampton said.
With his fastball topping out at about 90 mph, he can drop his off-speed pitches in effectively.
His curveball comes in about 75-76, his slider 82 and changeup 80 mph.
“The changeup is always a work in progress with him,” Mazey said. “We developed a little slider, which was good for him for a while. He’s got a good feel for pitching and how to pitch; it’s just a matter of him getting bigger and stronger and more mature now and his stuff getting a little better. The fact he can throw strikes with all of them is going to help him moving forward.”
Hampton came back home to Green Bay early in the summer for another go-around with the Booyah.
However, his experience lasted only one start because the West Virginia coaching staff had Hampton shut down for the rest of the summer.
In the spring, Hampton said he had a sprained UCL and ulnar nerve impingement.
It didn’t require surgery, just rest and physical therapy.
Hampton took nearly two months off from throwing.
At the end of July, he started light tosses three days a week from about 60 feet.
He said his arm feels good.
“He can be really good for us,” Mazey said. “Winning four games as a freshman, as a coach you hope guys will develop a little bit every year. We’ve had a history here at West Virginia of pitchers developing and getting better. He’s the type of kid who will do that. If he continues to buy into what we’re doing, he should fall in line with all the other pitchers at West Virginia and continue to improve as their career unfolds.”