Mitchell Gross didn't go out on top on Wednesday night. The Forsyth Central junior lefty's third pitch of the seventh inning was an elevated fastball, and North Forsyth's Evan Johnson smashed it over the left field fence. Gross' night was over after that.
But there was much more to Gross' outing against the Raiders, one that Bulldogs pitching coach Brian Bull declared the best of Gross' season. The Georgia commit mixed and spotted his pitches to consistently perplex North's hitters, allowing four hits and notching 11 strikeouts in six-plus innings. Central's offense backed Gross up, and the Bulldogs topped the Raiders, 6-4, to keep themselves in strong contention for a spot in the state playoffs.
Gross' best outing of the year came directly after what was likely his worst. Last Wednesday against South, Gross was charged with six runs in 3 1/3 innings, striking out seven War Eagles and allowing two hits, but also issuing six walks and giving up two home runs.
The success that Gross saw on Wednesday seemed to start with sharper control, as he didn't walk any Raiders until two outs into the fifth inning. When he was ahead, Gross could go to his changeup and curveball, both of which he showed a feel for, with the bottom dropping out of the former and the latter swooping into the zone at an angle.
But what Gross sees as the main difference between his good and bad outings has nothing to do with stuff or mechanics.
"Confidence," Gross said. "I come out with a lot of confidence. That's something I've got to come out with every time."
That Gross felt confident in his teammates' offensive production also helped ease his mind on the mound. The ball seemed to be carrying particularly well on the warm night at Central's field, and five of the Bulldogs' runs came off home runs. Jonathan Bergmoser hit two solo shots to left -- one in the second and one in the third -- and Ethan Hankins cranked a low fastball from Brody Westbrooks over the trucks parked beyond the outfield wall for a three-run shot in the third inning.
The win put Central's overall record at an unremarkable 6-14, but the Bulldogs are 4-4 in Region 5-7A, which ties them for second place and puts them in position for a spot in the state playoffs. With Central's starting trio of Gross, Hankins and Jacob Ryan all coming off strong outings, the Bulldogs look like they at least have the arms to stack up with most competition.
Getting Gross to bring the confidence that he showed on Wednesday to every outing would be a good start.
"If we could figure that out, then we'd be pretty good right now," Bull said with a laugh.
North fell to 14-6, 3-5 with the loss.