The traditional locations for a dugout-clearing celebration in baseball are near the mound or on the base path heading to second base, where the final play of a compelling, tense game so often occurs.
Forsyth Central conducted its celebration Monday night in the middle of left field.
That’s where the Bulldogs swarmed outfielder Chase Nufer after his full-extension diving catch and throw to second for a double play ended a 7-6 win at West Forsyth in remarkable – and ironic – fashion.
It was ironic because defense was one of Central’s main issues Monday night. The Bulldogs committed five errors in three separate innings, and they led to runs for West each time.
There were two in the first inning that gave the Wolverines a 1-0 lead. Another in the third helped West score three runs to pull within 5-4. Another in the fifth contributed to the Wolverines’ two-run inning to cut in to Central’s 7-4 lead.
“We were horrible,” Central head coach Kevin McCollum said. “I don’t know. We had prom Saturday night. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it.”
The errors threatened to spoil a game started by Vanderbilt commit and ace Ethan Hankins. After a five-run top of the second, highlighted by a bases-loaded clearing double by Luke Sutko, the Bulldogs led 5-1. Hankins with a lead seemed like an ideal scenario for Central. But Hankins departed after five innings and six runs allowed, though only one was earned.
After Davis Smith worked around a leadoff hit for a scoreless sixth, Alex Andrew entered in the seventh to finish things. But he walked Hank Flood to start. Zach Burns reached on an infield error a batter later. Connor Kirley stepped to the plate with two on and one out.
Kirley sent a line drive to left field, and as Nufer charged the ball he lost it in the lights for a split second. Nufer decided to hold his path, just like he said Central outfielders are instructed to at every practice.
“I had faith,” Nufer said.
Nufer leapt, fully horizontal, and caught Kirley’s line drive. Aware of the runners, Nufer popped up eager to throw to second base for a double play – a little too eager, perhaps.
“I threw that ball right into the ground,” said Nufer, who also went 2-for-2 at the plate. “Probably should have held on to it for a little longer. But it ended up getting the job down, so that’s all that matters.”
Central’s dugout erupted, and players stormed Nufer. They had a lot to celebrate – the Bulldogs (18-10, 8-5 Region 5-7A) won their ninth straight game, but more crucially took sole possession of second place in the region behind Lambert, who has already secured first place. With one more win against West (14-13, 7-6) on Wednesday, the Bulldogs can secure second place and home field advantage in the first round of the state playoffs next week.
McCollum wasn’t interested in entertaining that scenario afterward, especially after the night’s dramatics.
“That’s playoff baseball right there,” McCollum said. “It’s good experience for both teams wherever we end up at the end of the week.”