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Baseball: Bulldogs erupt late against Horns, take sole possession of 1st place
Forsyth Central's Cason Pirkle (16) prepares to cross home plate, as teammate Alex Hernandez (2) did moments prior, on a two-run single by Cam Yeager during the sixth inning of a Region 6-7A matchup against Lambert Wednesday at home. (Photo by Nicholas Sullivan)

Entering its fourth game of the Region 6-7A schedule, Forsyth Central saw its average runs per game sitting just below the double-digit mark. Thanks to an 11-5 win over Lambert — in particular, an eight-run sixth inning — the Bulldogs increased their average to exactly 10 runs per game Wednesday at home.

“No doubt, the sixth inning was big,” Forsyth Central head coach Kevin McCollum said. “They didn’t crush the ball, but they found the holes. That’s baseball.”

In a battle between the only remaining undefeated teams in the region, the Bulldogs — who had scored 11, 9 and 9 runs, respectively, in their first three league games — made sure to answer every time the Longhorns took the lead.

Following Tanner Patterson's run-scoring single in the top of the first, Forsyth Central (10-4, 4-0) evened the score in the bottom half, when Alex Hernandez scampered home on a wild pitch.

“We kind of manufactured some runs,” McCollum said. “A wild pitch was the first run we got. Anytime, you can get those kinds of runs, it helps. No doubt about it.”

As soon as Bradley Gabriel restored Lambert's lead with an RBI hit in the third, the hosts put together a two-out rally in the home half to regain the lead. After back-to-back hits by Hernandez and Kole McGlumphy, Josh Gibbs ripped a two-run single for a 3-2 edge.

Lambert (10-5, 3-1) tied things up in its next turn at bat. Krish Gandhi doubled to begin the fourth, moved to third on a flyout and scored on a groundball off the bat of Rhett Howard.

The Longhorns took their third lead of the game in the sixth.

Hits by Gabriel and Patterson preceded a run-scoring fielder's choice off the bat of Gandhi. With two outs, Howard doubled home a run for a 5-3 advantage.

However, Lambert's celebrations were cut short when Forsyth Central's first three batters of the sixth reached, chasing Longhorns starter Greyson Madonia.

The final batter Madonia faced — Brandon Semple — posted an RBI single to cut the lead in half, but it was far from the end of the damage the Bulldogs would dole out in the frame.

A throwing error on a sacrifice bunt allowed the tying- and go-ahead runs to score. Another defensive miscue allowed Jake Walther to reach, and Daniel Smith followed with an RBI double.

Forsyth Central then reeled off a walk, a RBI single by McGlumphy, an infield hit, a two-run single by Cam Yeager and an RBI knock from Braden Wudi. Lambert finally made another pitching change, but with the score at 11-5, the damage had already been done.

“It shows a little bit of the grit they have,” McCollum said of the late uprising. “When they focus in on their at-bats, we can have good at-bats. We just need to do it more often throughout the game for seven innings.

“Hats off to them. They battle. A year of experience for a lot of them has helped out. They have a little more confidence in themselves.”

Dalton Crisp closed out the game without much drama — working around a pair of two-out hits, including Gabriel's fourth of the day. Averett Thompson registered the win, tossing the first six innings and striking out eight along the way.

“Averett did a good job on the mound,” McCollum said. “He kept us in it all game, threw strikes and did a good job. Dalton [Crisp] came in and shut it down.”

With the Bulldogs offense capable of erupting at any moment, Forsyth Central's pitchers know that they only need to keep the team within reasonable striking distance to feel as though a comeback is possible. In three of their four region wins, the Bulldogs have trailed in either the fifth or sixth innings before responding with an eight- or nine-run outburst.

It's likely an unsustainable formula, but then again, it's gotten Forsyth Central to the top of the region standings, thus far.

“I think any win gives you a little bit of confidence,” McCollum said. “You just want to make sure your heads don’t get in the clouds too much and know you have a long way to go. There’s a lot of good teams out there, so we’ll see what happens.”