As droplets of freezing rain began peppering dark spots across the infield dirt at North Forsyth High School, Forsyth Central pitcher Jacob Ryan toed the rubber in the bottom of the eighth inning and looked to preserve a 2-1 lead in a Monday night game that had seen pretty much everything.
Ryan’s lone runner — North third baseman Evan Johnson — reached two batters prior thanks to a bizarre pop fly on the fringe of infield foul territory that resulted in the ejection of Central head coach Kevin McCollum following his heated discussion with the home-plate umpire.
Ryan’s night began four innings prior, after star senior Ethan Hankins struck out eight of his nine batters through three hitless innings with the customary gaggle of scouts looking on.
With a 2-2 count and the rain beginning to pick up, Ryan stretched and delivered the game’s final pitch—an inside fastball—fanning his second batter of the inning, his eighth of the night and securing a much-needed third region win for Central after four-straight losses.
“Everything felt like it was working,” Ryan said. “Fastball, slider especially, that was really good today.”
With both teams locked at one run and three hits apiece through seven innings, Central’s lead came courtesy of catcher Greg Wozniak, who launched the first pitch from North reliever Caelan Thomas over the centerfield fence on an eighth-inning solo homer.
“Their pitch caller was our coach last year and he’s seen me hit a lot,” Wozniak said. “He was pitching me outside all day, giving me a lot of off-speed, and then finally—I’m sure he called that low-and-away—he just missed, and that’s my pitch. Low and inside.”
In addition to the game-winning blast, Wozniak put in a stellar defensive night behind the plate, picking off base runners in both the fourth and seventh innings while helping to preserve a 1-1 game in which each team’s only run came in the fourth.
“I’d say I have an average arm,” said a grinning Wozniak after the game. “It’s really just in the quick transfer. I just try to work on it every day in practice.”
For those attending the game strictly to catch a glimpse of Hankins, the 17-year-old prospect’s second outing back from a minor shoulder injury was a combination of both familiar dominance and refreshing promise.
On a cold and wet night when his fastball only topped out at 93 mph on the radar guns, Hankins’ command was in absolute peak form for the full array of his pitches.
Blending off-speed and breaking balls in with his fastball, the Vanderbilt signee struck out seven-straight batters to start the game and looked perfectly capable of striking out another seven in spite of his pitch count.
“I wasn’t really trying to throw my hardest, I was just trying to locate,” said Hankins, who’s fastball has clocked as high as 96 previously this season. “I trust my (velocity) whether I’m throwing 100 percent or 85. It’s not about (velocity) to me, it’s about throwing strikes. That’s what I felt most confident in today, was my control.”
Central’s win now puts them at 3-4 in region play, with their second of three consecutive games against North Forsyth coming Wednesday at home.