Trailing 4-1 heading to the fourth inning, Forsyth Central could have mailed it in on the road Thursday night against Dalton.
Instead, the Bulldogs took a spark and created fire, scoring two in the bottom of the fourth to retake the lead and 14 more runs in the next three frames to win, 17-5, and clinch the Region 7-AAAAA championship for the second year in a row.
The Bulldogs (21-4) won the opening game of the best-of-three series 4-1 at home on Wednesday and would have had a deciding finale at home Friday had the Catamounts (19-6, 15-5) held on. Taylor Bauman, Parker Morrison and Daniel Henderson all hit home runs in the victory. Henderson finished a triple away from the cycle and amassed seven RBIs.
With five runs in the fifth, five in the sixth and four in the seventh, it was clear the championship was in Central’s hands well before the game ended. Though, despite the less dramatic atmosphere compared to last year’s championship series against Creekview, the Bulldogs couldn’t contain their excitement.
“They’re still young kids,” Central head coach Kevin McCollum said. “There was plenty of celebrating. It was a little different than a year before, maybe not as nervous.”
Central has now won two straight titles after not having a region championship since current West Forsyth head coach Mike Pruitt earned one in 1997.
“Winning region was definitely one of the boxes we wanted to check off at the beginning of the year, but I think this group has bigger goals they want to accomplish ahead of them,” McCollum said. “We’re fortunate to be in the same position as last year, so hopefully we take advantage of it.”
The result was the seventh time during the season that Central scored at least 10 runs, and the third time they scored more than 15. Also, starting pitcher Ryan Cox (8-1) got the win through five innings of work, striking out four batters against four hits allowed.
With a high-powered offense and starting pitchers with a combined record of 20-4, Central appears primed to make a deeper run into the postseason after falling to Jones County in the second round last year.
Still, McCollum thinks his team is far from perfect.
“We’ve not played a complete seven innings of great offense and defense all year, so we’re still waiting for that,” McCollum said. “It would be nice if that’s ahead of us. You don’t have to be the most talented team in the postseason, it’s all about who is playing the best baseball. I think we can compete with anybody.”
Central’s pitching trio of Morrison, Cox and Vanderbilt commit Ethan Hankins has ERAs of 2.06, 1.87 and 2.87, respectively. The Bulldogs also have nine players batting over .333, including Morrison at .429.
Central will face Druid Hills in the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs, which are set to begin at the higher seeded school’s starting April 29.