It was hard to find relief for Forsyth Central baseball after its 8-7 loss to Cambridge at home on Wednesday.
After the team met in right field near the foul line, Bulldogs players trudged over to pull the tarp over Central’s infield. Central head coach Kevin McCollum stayed put with his assistant coaches in near-silence. The Bulldogs had squandered a 4-0 lead. They’d stranded the game-tying and -winning runs in the bottom of the seventh. Worse, they’d lost a chance to capture the season series against Cambridge after Monday’s 2-1 victory.
But, still, there was relief. The Region 7-AAAAA coaches had created it before the season began, adopting a unique schedule for a region with unique circumstances.As the biggest region in the state with 14 teams, coaches voted to create two divisions and let teams within each subdivision play each other in three-game series each week.
It created something to resemble the state playoff format, with the most tantalizing scenario of a winner-take-all third game.
In that, Central could find relief in another chance, one more when it plays Friday at Cambridge at 5:55 p.m.
“It’ll be exciting Friday,” McCollum said.
Central got out to an exciting start. Logan Howard hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the second. The Bulldogs watched Cambridge throw the ball around on a sacrifice bunt by Josh Meese that scored two runners. Starting pitcher Parker Morrison cruised through three perfect innings. Central led 4-0.
Soon the excitement wore off. Cambridge’s Nick Sievert scored from third on a wild pitch in the fourth. Crew Cohoes drove in Sievert and Brett Hawkins with a single in the fifth. Pete Gottschalk scored on a passed ball, and the game was tied.
Then the ideal situation arose for Cambridge in the top of the seventh: men on first and third with slugging catcher Brendan Lawler at the plate. He was the linchpin in the Bears’ lineup last season. As he heated up, so did Cambridge, eventually coming within a game of the program’s first state playoff appearance.
On a 1-0 pitch, Lawler scorched a line drive right at Central left fielder Robbie Repasz, who charged and dove to make the catch, but the ball skimmed the bottom of the his glove and rolled to the fence.
“Brendan’s always been our go-to guy,” Cambridge head coach Brian Jeffrey said. “It was the right man at the right spot.”
And yet Central mounted its rally. Taylor Bauman led off the bottom of the seventh with a double, Parker Biederer hit a single, and both scored on Josh Meese’s line drive double to make it 8-6. Meese moved to third on a bloop single by Pierce Nufer, then scored on a dribbling grounder to third by Robbie Repasz, and Howard stepped to the plate with a chance to extend or end the game.
Instead, he struck out on a 3-2 high fastball.
“It was nice to see our kids fought back,” McCollum said. “We ran into a tough inning in the seventh. Sometimes that happens.”
“That’s why baseball is the greatest game,” Jeffrey said, “because you have to give them their chance. You can’t run out the clock, you can’t take a knee, and they’re a good hitting baseball team.”
Indeed, between Monday and Wednesday’s meetings, Cambridge and Central has grown intimately familiar with each other.
Cambridge grew to see Central’s strong top of the order of its lineup, particularly leadoff hitter Taylor Bauman, who after three hits on Monday went 2-for-4 with two runs Wednesday.
“We can’t get that guy out,” Jeffrey said.
But that was another appeal to the new region schedule, Jeffrey said. There’s no hiding from a player who is hot at the plate, no concealing a pitcher who is struggling with his stuff, no leaning on a single dominant pitcher.
For a region with teams that stretch all the way from north Atlanta to Rome, Ga., the subdivisions and three-game series offered a solution for some logistical challenges.
For teams with state playoff aspirations, like Cambridge and Central, it also offered a taste of what could be.
“Hopefully at the end it will pull out the best four teams from our region for the state playoffs,” McCollum said. “Hopefully we’re one of them.”