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Always on base: Thurber leads Expedition League in on-base percentage

Jake Thurber rounds the bases in a June 17 contest against Hastings at Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark. Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press1 / 3
Thurber catches a pickoff attempt at first base against Hub City on July 7 at Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark. Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press2 / 3
Thurber swings at a pitch in a game against Hub City on July 6 at Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark. Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press3 / 3

Through the Badlands Big Sticks' early summer winning streak and late-June slump, one thing has remained consistent: Jake Thurber.

The Big Sticks first baseman has led the league nearly all summer with his batting average, recently topping out at .405 on July 4. As of the afternoon of July 11, his .378 average earned him fifth in the Expedition League.

This success is no secret though, as Division I Gonzaga University picked up the 6-foot-4 Washington state native last spring.

While the transfer kept him from hitting the field this past season, Thurber hasn't skipped a beat as a Big Stick. In addition to his average, Thurber's on-base percentage (OBP) of .518 and slugging percentage of .622 lead the team. His OBP also leads the league. He also has six home runs, tied with two others for the most on the Big Sticks.

"Honestly, I just go up there and compete," Thurber said. "I go up there and look for my pitch. I don't chase balls out of the zone. That's why I walk a lot too."

Thurber has a league-high 34 walks on the summer, highly contributing to his on-base-plus-slugging percentage of 1.14. Additionally, his seven doubles and three triples are the second most in each category among Big Sticks batters.

With two seasons of college ball under his belt, Thurber is one of the older athletes to play for the Big Sticks in their inaugural season.

"He's very coachable." Badlands head coach Hayden Pewitt said. "He's one of the better kids on our team. If a kid asks for a foul ball, he's going to be the first one to give it to him. It's good to see when kids like that have success."

The path to becoming a Bulldog wasn't a straight one by any means. Thurber graduated from Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien, Wash., a suburb of Seattle. He lettered in football, basketball and baseball, but baseball won out as he went to Washington State, his father's alma mater.

"I think this is probably the best opportunity I had to play in college. I probably loved it the most also," Thurber said "It's summer, you're outside all the time. I love being outside."

After a year as a Cougar, Thurber went the junior college route at Salt Lake Community College in Utah. Following his sophomore season, he went further south to the University of New Mexico. He stayed just a semester though, before finding a home in Gonzaga back in Washington.

"I was talking to Gonzaga a little bit out of high school and didn't go there. I talked to some of the guys and coaches that went there and they said they'd give me an opportunity. I'll take it," Thurber said. "I have some friends who go there just for school so it sounded like a good fit."

Thurber has settled into his spot at first base, prepping for where the Zags want him. He only started at the position during his sophomore year of college, playing outfield and catching up to that point.

"Just getting ground balls, getting back in the swing of things," Pewitt said of how he's helped Thurber adjust at first. " At the beginning of the (summer), he was not great over there, and every day in (batting practice) he just takes ground balls, ground balls, ground balls. He's been pretty good over there for us recently."

Thurber has committed two errors on the summer, boasting a .989 fielding percentage.

He switches off playing first with teammate Kaleb Binstock, but is always in the lineup, filling in at designated hitter.

His presence at the plate and on the basepaths has become fundamental to the Big Sticks game plan. Thurber has appeared in all but two of the 37 games this season, drumming up a team-high 166 plate appearances. He's had at least one hit in all but six contests, reaching in all but two.

"The consistency he brings everyday, you're getting a hit out of him every day," Pewitt said. "That's huge for our lineup to have. We're getting guys on for him and he's driving them in."

A surprising skill of Thurber's is his speed. With a frame as large as his, most wouldn't expect him to move so quickly, but his 10 stolen bases on the summer proves otherwise.

"I did not expect it at all. His brother is a wide receiver (at the University of Montana) so that family's got the genes," Pewitt said. "He's got those long strides. The thing about him getting stolen bases is he gets them late in games when he times up a pitcher and finds out their rhythm and stuff like that. He's a really smart player and that's Thurber man, he's going to find a way to get better at that moment."

According to his bio for the Salt Lake Community College Bruins, Thurber's nickname is 'Turbo.'

"I still haven't found a weakness," Pewitt said. "Ten stolen bags this year, top three in home runs, top three in average in the league, there's not a weakness out there for him. If you ask me, he's the best player in this league, hands down."

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