A day after a walk-off win to stay alive in the second round of the Class 7A GHSA state playoffs, the Forsyth Central Bulldogs were unable to overcome North Gwinnett’s pitching and timely hitting, losing 5-0 in the final game of the three-game series.
Central finished its season making it to the Sweet 16 of the state playoffs after only winning seven games last year. Among the team's 20 victories this spring were several come-from-behind rallies and walk-off wins, particularly down the stretch.
“I am proud of these guys and how they went from winning just seven games last season to the second round of the state playoffs," Central head coach Kevin McCollum said. "Good senior leadership helped us turn this team around.“
The two exhausted teams limped into the final game on Saturday after a doubleheader on Friday where both combined for 42 runs.
After falling in a high-scoring opener, Central avoided elimination in Game 2 with a ninth-inning walk-off victory.
”In my 10 years of baseball," North Gwinnett head coach Ryan Moity said, "I have not played a team that played and competed as hard as this Forsyth Central baseball team.“
In Saturday’s game, North Gwinnett senior pitcher Justin Bowman held the visitors to three hits and overcame control problems in the fifth to shut down the Central offense that scored 18 total runs in the first two games of the series.
Bowman and Central starting pitcher Jake Walther held their opponents scoreless for the first two innings.
In the top of third, Central senior Bryson Kuhn — the walk-off hero in Game 2 — stroked a single hard to left and reached second as the ball got past the North Gwinnett left fielder. However, Central (20-12) was unable to capitalize, as Bowman retired the next three batters.
Koa Kloehs started the bottom of the third with the first hit of the day for North. Leadoff hitter Tyler Bak then hit a 3-1 pitch for a two-run home run.
After a 1-2-3 fourth inning, Bowman began to struggle with his control in the top of the fifth.
The first two Central batters were hit by a pitch, then a wild pitch advanced the runners to second and third. North Gwinnett turned a double play, but Bowman continued to struggle with control, walking the next two batters to load the bases for Alex Hernandez.
Despite a ready bullpen, Moity kept his senior pitcher in to face Hernandez, and it paid off. Hernandez just missed a grand slam, flying out to deep center field.
“Justin Bowman has been a team guy from the beginning and has worked hard for four years preparing for situations like that," Moity said. "I had faith in him that he would settle down and get the out.“
The Bulldogs from North Gwinnett then tacked on three more runs in the bottom of the fifth with strong fundamental baseball, timely hits and good baserunning to take a 5-0 lead.
Bowman and Gavin Zolar preserved the series win, shutting out Central for the final two innings.
North Gwinnett (29-6) advances to play Lowndes in the final eight of the state playoffs.