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Baseball: Kell breaks loose against Central
Longhorns' early 10-0 lead holds off Bulldogs
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Kell’s Justin Russell slides across home plate just ahead of the tag attempt by Forsyth Central catcher Jake Nix on Friday in Cumming. - photo by Jared Putnam

Forsyth Central waited too long to start trying to catch up against Kell. If the Bulldogs aren’t careful, the same thing may hold true in the region standings.

Kell built a 10-0 lead going into the bottom of the fourth inning and held off a late rally to defeat the Bulldogs 11-7 on Friday in Cumming.

Central (9-9, 5-7 Region 7-AAAAA) had an opportunity to make up ground in the standings against the Longhorns (11-5, 8-3), who came into the night in fourth place in Region 7, but the loss left the Bulldogs 3.5 games back in the chase for the final playoff seed.

"They had a good approach at the plate early in the game, got some runs on us early [and] we fell behind," Central head coach Kevin McCollum said. "We fought back, but not enough. We had a couple of good, decent days of practice. We just weren’t real sharp hitting the ball early in the game and a little too little too late."

Kell took a 1-0 lead on an RBI single from Brady Smith in the first inning, but the real damage came in the third and fourth innings.

Brice O’Brien hit a bloop single to center to score Jamari Moore, who stole second, before Kerrigan McManigal cleared the bases with a two-out double to deep right field and made the score 5-0 in the third.

The Longhorns picked up right where they left off in the fourth, as Ryan Losito started the inning with a single, stole second and took third on a wild pitch. Central pitcher Andrew Gist (3+ IP, 6 ER, 8 H, 7 K, 1 HBP, 1 BB) hit a batter and walked another before Jordan Woodard come on in relief. Kell added two sacrifice flies and McManigal cleared the bases again with another two-out hit to right-center field for his sixth RBI of the night to bring the score to 10-0.

Central benefited from two errors in the bottom half of the frame to close the gap. Michael Branigan (2-for-2, 1 RS) started the rally with a leadoff walked and moved to second on a single by Miller Cone. The Bulldogs executed a double steal and Branigan scored after the right fielder couldn’t handle Dee Kelly’s fly ball. A wild pitch allowed Cone to cross the plate before Kelly scored from second on an error by the shortstop.

Kell stole three more bases and added one more run in the fifth inning on a sacrifice fly by O’Brien. The Longhorns finished with nine stolen bases.

"It’s a little combination of everything," McCollum said of the stolen bases. "Pitchers can do a better job of holding [runners] on. We could probably get some better pitches to handle behind the plate and the catcher has to throw the ball and we’ve got to catch it at second. It’s a team effort even though it seems like it’s all on the catcher. It’s a little bit on everybody."

Kelly, Gist and Devon Compton all singled off Kell pitcher Avery McReynolds (6 IP, 4 ER, 7 H, 3 BB, 1 HBP) to load the bases for Ian Leeds in the sixth inning. Leeds hit a grounder to the second baseman, but the fielder misplayed the ball and let Kelly and Gist score. Compton scored from third to make the score 11-6 after Kell’s catcher threw out Leeds trying to steal second.

Central loaded the bases again in the seventh inning, but only came away with one run. Willie Ortiz walked in Kelly before Jake Nix flew out to end the game.

"[We] have to focus on the present and not worry about what’s ahead or what’s behind, just what’s going on right now," McCollum said.

The Bulldogs were scheduled to play Sprayberry on Saturday and will face region-leader Pope at home on Thursday at 5:55 p.m.