Over the course of seven games in March and April, Forsyth Central’s baseball team did not lose. This was notable for the Bulldogs. It eclipsed six-game winning streaks in 2010 and 2013. It thrust them into first place in Region 7-AAAAA, Div. B. Gradually, it built up a developing swagger on the team and expectation in the stands.
Then it came to a halt last week. Central lost on Wednesday to North Atlanta to have its winning streak snapped, then fell again Friday to lose its first region series of the season.
And maybe, just maybe, that was OK.
“Maybe we were thinking we were a little better than we were,” Central head coach Kevin McCollum said. “I think last week was a learning experience.”
The Bulldogs (10-6, 9-3) need those lessons now more than ever as they enter a pivotal –no, the pivotal – region series against Kell (12-5, 9-3) Wednesday. The winner of the three-game set will seize control of first place in the sub-region with one region series remaining and earn the chance to play the top seed from Region 7-AAAAA, Div. A for the region championship starting April 20.
“We’re looking forward to it,” McCollum said. “It’s been awhile since Forsyth Central has had a chance to come in first place in baseball, at least since I’ve been here.”
Indeed, the closest Central has come was 2012 when it finished second in Region 7-AAAA. But even then, the Bulldogs were three games behind first-place Johns Creek (though Central swept the Gladiators during the regular season).
Central is in this position thanks to remarkable pitching depth and grit, qualities that have served it well in a region schedule built to test teams’ depth and endurance in three-game series.
At the top of Central’s pitching staff has been Reed Clark, the senior lefthander who signed with Western Carolina and has displayed swing-and-miss stuff – he has 49 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings. But the Bulldogs don’t lose much in pitching ability after Clark in senior lefthander Logan Howard (27 1/3IP, 34K), a Georgia College and State verbal commit, and junior righthander Parker Morrison (24IP, 32K).
“I think our starting pitching’s done a good job,” McCollum said. “I guess that’s one area we really haven’t been tested too much, is our bullpen. All of the starters have been going seven innings with pitch counts relative to it. Reed, Logan and Parker have all thrown very well this year, and they’ve kept us in every game.”
Central has needed them, for the Bulldogs have had a propensity to make games tense. Already, Central has played in eight games decided by one run (it’s 4-4 in those games). Twice during the Bulldogs’ series sweep of Riverwood they won one-run games in extra innings.
“I think they understand the fact that if we pitch and play some defense, you’ll be in every game,” McCollum said.
The one missing element for Central, according to McCollum, has been consistent offensive production. Someone has always produced among a lineup featuring Taylor and Hunter Bauman, Parker Biederer, Josh Meese, Robbie Repasz, Pierce Nufer, Howard, Wade Smith and Jacob Phillips. Getting production from all – or at least most – at once has been elusive this season.
“I know we haven’t played our best game of the year yet,” McCollum said, “or our best series of the year yet. I’m looking forward to this group being able to do that at some point this year before it gets too close to the end.
“This would be a good week for it to all come together.”