As a sophomore on Forsyth Central’s junior varsity baseball team two years ago, Evan Zaharchak was just starting to play frequently enough to discover his own weaknesses. The most obvious one: fastballs, low and inside. He sought advice from Bulldogs coaches, and their solution was to work with a tee. The rest was up to him.
“At one point I’d just been working and working,” Zaharchak said.
Zaharchak thought back to those days Friday after he hit a pinch-hit, walk-off three-run homer to give Central a 9-7 victory against Lambert in both team’s region and regular season finales.
The senior’s decisive swing came on the ninth pitch of his at-bat against Longhorns reliever Payton MacPherson. That was a victory in itself for Zaharchak after falling behind in the count, 0-2.
Zaharchak recalibrated his approach at that point. He knew he had to expand his zone but with caution.
“That means extending my hands a little more than normal,” he said, “just try to foul things off and maybe put one in play.”
Zaharchak fouled one off, then took ball one, fouled another, then took ball two. He fouled off the next two pitches.
Zaharchak said afterward he makes adjustments as pitches are thrown. MacPherson’s ninth pitch was easy to identify – fastball, low and inside.
“I knew what to do,” Zaharchak said.
The ball soared in to left-field, and Zaharchak said he thought at first the ball would hit the fence, good enough to score lead runner Jake Bump from second base.
Instead, the ball cleared it. Central’s dugout erupted, swallowing Zaharchak at home plate in euphoria.
“As a pinch hitter, to come in and do that job, it’s probably the greatest feeling in the world,” Zaharchak said. “You definitely cannot beat that.”
“Evan’s had good pinch-hit at-bats throughout the year,” Central head coach Kevin McCollum said. “He got down in the count and didn’t try to do too much, kept battling. … Big strong kid put a good swing on it.”
The overall result of Zaharchak’s heroics didn’t quite match the moment. Central entered the game in a three-way tie for second place in the region with Milton and West, who faced each other Friday. A scenario existed for the Bulldogs to finish second, third or fourth, depending on the night’s results.
West’s 3-1 win put Central in third place and on the road in the first round of the Class 7A state playoffs at perennial powerhouse Parkview next Friday.
But Central was still basking in optimism after such a dramatic win.
“That’s exciting,” McCollum said of facing Parkview. “Probably one of the better teams in the state everybody says, so, hey, why not play them in the first round?”