When South Forsyth’s Tyler Cowan made contact off a Ryan Gamble pitch with his team down one run with one out left, the War Eagles leaped out of the dugout in anticipation.
The sound of the bat, the trajectory of the ball and Cowan’s reaction seemed to confirm what was eventually coming: a game-winning three-run home run to end an 11-inning marathon against Forsyth Central on Wednesday night. All the while, Bulldogs center fielder Chase Hillenbrand raced back to the warning track.
“I was thinking it was just going to be a deep flyball,” Hillenbrand said. “I got to the track and it kept going. I got to the wall and was like, 'Gotta jump'. It was do or die.”
South’s hopes were ultimately squashed, with Hillenbrand completing his leaping catch at the wall to secure a 10-9 win, as the Bulldogs streamed out of their dugout and sprinted into center field to celebrate with him. The War Eagles, jubilant just seconds before, now stood in stunned silence near third base.
That game ended at about 9 p.m., but it wasn’t the only game scheduled for Wednesday. Playing late into the night didn’t stop the Bulldogs from getting the sweep, though, as they followed that exciting finish with a 2-0 win in game two.
“Our kids just kept battling away, and good things happened as they battled throughout the night,” Central head coach Kevin McCollum said. “We haven't played a home game in three weeks -- the second game was supposed to be a home game. We can't make excuses about things we can't control.”
Cowan’s near-home run came after a rare second chance. Gamble had pitched well up to that point out of the bullpen, ultimately striking out eight and allowing one hit over his 5 1/3 innings. He had secured two outs, but a dropped pop-up put Chris Dougherty in scoring position, representing the tying run. Gamble quickly got back into game mode after the potentially costly error.
“I was happy and thought the game was over,” Gamble said. “When it was dropped, my heart kind of sunk. I just had to go out there and start throwing again.”
Central and South combined for 23 hits in the first game, and the Bulldogs certainly began their night swinging, with Jonathan Bergmoser hitting a two-out grand slam to left to put his team ahead 4-0 in the top of the first. He finished the first game 2-for-4 with four RBIs, two runs scored and two walks.
“When we walk people early, we're writing our own ticket for failure,” South coach Russ Bayer said. “We put ourselves in a jam in the first inning and they put that four-spot on us.”
The War Eagles didn’t get off to a great start, but they quickly put themselves back in it. Cowan knocked in a run with an RBI single in the bottom of the first. After a sacrifice fly, a bases-loaded walk from Landon Sims and another Cowan single, South had tied the game at 4-4 at the end of the second.
Colby Wheeler hit a three run shot to left to give the War Eagles a 7-4 lead in the third, which they extended to 8-4 by the end of five. The Bulldogs clawed back, though, and after a solo home run from Peyton Rawlins gave them some insurance, South’s edge was just 9-7 in the sixth. A Gamble sacrifice fly and an error tied the game at 9-9 in the seventh, where the score remained until Greg Tasos was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the 11th.
“Kudos to our boys, we battled back and did a good job of getting back on top,” Bayer said. “A lot of programs would lay down and die when that (happens) to them, but they didn't. It gives you an idea of what this region's all about, when they play 11 or 12 innings and battle back and forth.”
Central held their decisive two run lead in game two after an error scored Will Nelms in the fourth, and Gamble added a RBI single in the fifth. That was all Bulldogs starter Jacob Ryan needed, as he struck out 11 in his complete game effort.
Central improved to 6-4 overall and 3-1 in Region 5-7A play. South fell to 7-6 overall and 1-3 in the region.