Luke Sutko flailed away, his body contorted while he desperately cast his bat at the ball, until he took the swing that broke open perhaps the biggest inning of the season for the Forsyth Central baseball team in its 7-2 win on Monday over South Forsyth.
The matchup at the Bulldogs’ ballpark featured one of the best collections of pitching talent of the season, pitting Central’s Ethan Hankins, a Vanderbilt commit, against South’s Landon Sims, who has verballed to Mississippi State.
The first two innings were scoreless. The War Eagles (9-6, 2-2 Region 5-7A) had got the game’s first run in the top of the third, with Bradley Prince doubling off Hankins, advancing to third on Brett Graczyk’s single and scoring on a passed ball.
Central (9-8, 1-3) responded quickly in the next half inning, with Greg Tasos reaching on an error and then scoring on Greg Wozniak’s double. Parker Jones walked to put two runners on for Sutko, giving Central the chance to take its first multi-run lead of the region schedule.
After the game, Bulldogs head coach Kevin McCollum compared his team’s offense to a lawnmower that you keep cranking until it finally catches. The Bulldogs, who had started the region schedule with three straight losses in which lack of offense was a common factor, tried a couple of tweaks before Monday’s game.
Sutko, one of the team’s best hitters, moved from leadoff to the No. 3 spot in the order, and in batting practice, the Bulldogs got a particularly healthy mix of fastballs and offspeed pitches, with no indication of what was coming.
All of that converged in Sutko’s at-bat in the third inning. The senior fell behind 0-2 and knew he was going to see plenty of breaking balls from Sims, rather than the fastball-heavy mix he’d become accustomed to seeing as a leadoff hitter.
“This is the first at-bat that I’ve had all year that I’ve seen majority offspeed, rather than fastball,” Sutko said.
Sims spotted his breaking ball well for most of the at-bat, forcing off-balance swings on which Sutko barely made contact, but on the 10th pitch of the at-bat, with the count full, he hung a pitch over the inside corner. Sutko turned on it and sent a drive to left-center field, driving two runners home and giving Central a 3-1 lead.
The Bulldogs plated six in the third inning, with Grant Cloud’s RBI single and Bradlee Brooks’ two-run home run supplementing Sutko’s contribution. With their seventh run, which came on Daniel Henderson’s solo homer, Central had scored as many as it had in its first three region games combined.
“I think, for the most part, we had better at-bats throughout the night,” Central head coach Kevin McCollum said. “We still took a few too many off, but I guess we had enough good at-bats to get the win tonight.”
And the Bulldogs, despite their rough start, still have enough games to get back in the upper half of what appears to be a particularly even region.
“The coaches said we still have a long ways to go, (and) they’re right,” Sutko said. “This will give us momentum (to) get back on track.