The ball was struck about as well as possible, its sound off the bat closer to a crack than the ‘ping’ normally associated with metal. South Forsyth’s Tyler Cowan could take his time watching it soar over the center field fence, and as he strolled down the first base line, he flipped the bat aside.
And Mitchell Gross was okay with that, really. The Forsyth Central senior pitcher knows Cowan well, having played with him during the summer, and knows he likes to enjoy his home runs. Gross isn’t so focused on decorum that he’ll get bent out of shape.
“It’s not a big deal,” Gross said. “The scoreboard says more than that, and that’s what it’s about. No hard feelings towards Cowan – do what you’ve got to do.”
That was the main point of the night, and why the Bulldogs were smiling the most at the end of the teams’ game on Thursday, which Central won 7-3. The victory put the Bulldogs’ record in region play at 9-3, bettering their chances to host a state playoff series and perhaps win the region title, which would be a first for the program in Class 7A.
South entered the game with decent momentum from the War Eagles’ 12-2 win over West Forsyth the night before, and Cowan’s home run gave them a 2-1 lead, after Gross had hit a solo home run in the top of the first. That margin held for the second inning, but Central soon opened it up, tying the game at 2-2 in the third on a single from Ryan Gamble and then taking a 5-2 lead after Brady Hall hit a three-run home run.
Gross improved considerably as his outing went on. Of the four hits he allowed after Cowan’s home run, two stayed in the infield and another was a flair that Bulldogs shortstop A.J. Fiechter couldn’t quite track back to. Gross had no walks, throwing 66 of his 86 pitches for strikes, and he had eight strikeouts as well.
“I’ve seen Mitchell for the last three years, and from what I’ve seen, he had his best outing in all the times he threw against us tonight,” South head coach Russ Bayer said. “…He’s always had the plus stuff, but he was in the zone, he was ahead, and he was crisp.”
The War Eagles made it 5-3 in the sixth after scoring on a throwing error on a dropped third strike, but Central got a home run from Greg Tasos in the same inning and an RBI single from Jonathan Bergmoser in the seventh.
Central clinched a state playoff spot and moved into sole possession of second place on Wednesday, and with Thursday’s win, they’ll either be a game behind or tied with Milton at the week’s end, as the Eagles didn’t play on Thursday.
The Bulldogs are happy with their current position, but they’re certainly aiming for more. They face Milton once next week, and Central already holds a potential tiebreaker over the Eagles, as the Bulldogs have won both of the teams’ matchups this season.
“We’ve striving for #1, definitely,” Gross said. “We want a region championship.”
South fell to 10-13 overall and 3-9 in region play, putting the War Eagles a game from being eliminated from the playoffs, after Lambert (5-7 Region 5-7A) beat North Forsyth on Thursday.