In the fourth inning against Lambert on Tuesday night, Forsyth Central’s Mitchell Gross started to feel something he hadn’t felt up to that point: pressure.
Gross had allowed no hits up to that point, but before he knew it, the bases were loaded with no outs. The Bulldogs led by seven, but they didn’t want any kind of rally that could start a comeback. He dug in and prepared to get himself out of it.
Though Gross considers himself a strikeout pitcher, he hadn't gotten many to that point against the Longhorns. He got his punchouts when he needed them, though, getting two straight before getting Parker Brosius to pop out to first. He had escaped the jam unscathed to keep the shutout intact, and celebrated to himself as his teammates greeted him on his way to the dugout.
“The best hitters are going to get out seven out of 10 times,” Gross said. “I threw my stuff and it worked. I trusted it. That's something I've got to do more of so I won't be in those situations.”
Gross had plenty of help at the plate and on the basepaths, and despite the Bulldogs committing four errors, Gross’ performance keyed the Bulldogs to a one-hit shutout, and more importantly, an easy 9-0 region win over the Longhorns.
“(We) seemed a little more patient at the plate today,” Central head coach Kevin McCollum said. “We've still got to be willing to take the ball the other way. I think we get behind in counts when we're not willing to do that, but they battled and that's all we can ask for.”
Early on, it was easy for the Bulldogs to display that kind of plate discipline. Lambert starter Braden Bamburowski hit two batters in the first inning, and he wasn’t helped with two errors in the frame.
Bamburowski didn’t see a lot of time on the hill – after allowing two walks and a single to start the second, he was replaced after 1 2/3 innings in favor of Matthew Esz, but that change didn’t alleviate the early struggles for Lambert pitchers to find their spots.
The Longhorns walked nine and hit five batters over the course of the game. To make matters worse, their bases-loaded opportunity in the fourth wasn’t their only one – in the seventh, they did the same thing, and again got nothing.
“When you do that, it's tough to win baseball games,” Lambert coach Rick Howard said. “You've got to give yourself a chance to compete on as level a playing field as you can.”
After a walk and a hit batter with the bases loaded after the pitching change, Central led by four, and after a timely single from Brady Hall brought in two more, the Bulldogs led 6-0 in the middle of the second. The game was never in doubt from that point, with Central adding one in the third and two in the seventh.
It was more than enough for Gross to work with. He struck out five, walked two and allowed one hit, a Ben Asher single that turned out to be the Longhorns' only knock. With highly-touted prospect Ethan Hankins gone, the Bulldogs are counting on him to keep those kinds of starts coming.
“Him and Jacob Ryan threw a lot of innings last year and did a good job,” McCollum said. “They're kind of expecting to pick where they left off (from) last year: Come out, be senior leaders, throw strikes and keep us in games.”
Central improved to 5-4 overall and 1-1 in Region 5-7A play. Lambert fell to 3-10 overall and now owns a 1-1 region mark.