By Steven Watkins
For the Forsyth County News
When the final pitch of Thursday night’s second game at North Gwinnett High School skidded across the infield dirt and smacked into leather, the Forsyth Central baseball team watched from the visiting dugout as the ensuing throw sailed through the air and ended the game, the series, and ultimately the Bulldogs' season.
While their hosts began gathering near the mound to celebrate advancing through another round of the state playoffs, Central’s 2019 squad quietly gathered near the right-field corner to privately address and contemplate what the loss meant.
Despite finishing one game shy of a first-place region finish, despite winning their first postseason series as a member of Class 7A, and despite leading the second game of the evening as late as the fifth inning, the game, the series, and the season were over.
Central led each game at points, yet ultimately fell in a lopsided 10-2 loss in the first game and a heart-breaking 8-6 loss to complete the sweep in the second round of the state playoffs.
“They got a couple hits at the wrong times, and we didn’t get a couple hits at the right time,” Central head coach Kevin McCollum said. “That’s baseball sometimes.”
North Gwinnett started with a commanding 10-2 win in the first game. Despite surrendering eight hits and a first-inning homer to Mitchell Gross, North Gwinnett starter Brandt Pancer pitched the complete seven innings, walking none while adding nine strikeouts. Central starter Jacob Ryan started his night with two promising innings before surrendering three runs in the bottom of the third. North added three more runs in the following inning, two more of which came with two outs, and three more in the fifth.
After falling behind 1-0 in the second game, Central would take its second lead of the evening on a second-inning single by AJ Fiechter, plating a pair of runs. Fiechter finished the day with three hits and three RBIs on eight at-bats.
In a bizarre bottom half of the second inning, North would counter by taking a 4-3 lead following a pair of walks, two hit-batsmen, three hits and a dropped third strike that resulted in a run scoring. A leadoff double the and a walk the following inning would result in both a fifth run and the end of the night for Gross, who started the second game for Central.
Two innings later in the bottom of the fourth, Central fought back and retook the lead for the third time of the evening. After falling behind 0-1 with one out and runners at the corners, senior Greg Tasos he lined a ball down the left field line, landing it a few inches fair and placing it in the left-field corner. Nicholas Holbrook and Fiechter both crossed the plate, and once again, the Central Bulldogs retook the lead.
Once again, however, North Gwinnett would strike back.
After tying the game at six with a pair of one-out hits, a sharply hit ball to third baseman Jonathan Bermoser resulted in both the third error of the evening for Forsyth Central and a lead that North Gwinett would hold on to.
North reliever Jayden Perrine would finish out the night with a dominant six-strikeout effort while surrendering only three hits and stifling any remaining comeback attempts for Central.
After 11 region wins, advancing through the first round of the postseason, and leading on multiple occasions throughout the evening, Central simply fell short against the opposing Bulldogs.
“We’ve got a great group of guys,” McCollum said. “They battled all year. We’ve had our ups and downs, but I would say that more times than not, we came out on the right end of things this year. I’m real proud of them.”