Game 3 of Forsyth Central’s series against Grayson was supposed to be Wednesday, but the weather decided otherwise, pushing the deciding game of the series back to Thursday.
For starting pitcher Hunter Darke, that turned out to be a good thing.
“It actually gave me more time to think it over and get all the jitters out,” Darke said. “Overall, I think it was probably a good thing.”
Darke’s six innings of one-run baseball were certainly good enough to give Central the 6-1 win over Grayson to advance the Bulldogs into the Class 7A Final Four.
“Hunter had a couple pitches working well tonight and kept the ball in the bottom of the zone,” Bulldogs coach Kevin McCollum said. "Bats came alive too. Probably the best game we had of the series.”
Darke allowed four hits and two walks through six innings of work, striking out four Grayson batters. Through second and fourth innings, Darke allowed only one baserunner.
“I was definitely a little nervous,” he said. “I mean, it’s a big game. But I watched the other two starters work down and away, so I did the same thing and it worked out for me.”
The game was scoreless through the first 3 1/2 innings until Will Robbins sent a double off the right-field fence. Matthew Arundale placed a beautiful sacrifice bunt to advance Robbins to third, then Will Nelms sent a sacrifice fly into right field to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead.
The Rams tied the game in the top of the fifth and kept the game tied 1-1 until the bottom of the sixth inning. The Bulldogs’ offense combined for five singles and two walks in the inning that saw five runs cross the plate. After an AJ Fiechter leadoff walk, Jesse Duong sent a long single off the left-field wall.
With one out, Arundale drove in the game-winning run on a single up the middle. Nelms, Carson Elias and Stevie Lyons each had base hits in the inning, either driving in or scoring runs.
With a five-run lead, McCollum called Jackson Boswell to the mound to get the final three outs. Boswell said he knew that if he did not throw strikes, the Bulldogs could lose the momentum they had just taken back from Grayson.
However, the Central fan base kept momentum alongside the Bulldogs, erupting as Boswell struck out all three batters in the seventh inning to lock down Central's victory.
In fact, McCollum said he had never seen a crowd that size at any Central game.
Boswell said that the series could have gone completely different if the Bulldog fans had not shown up and lined the street outside the stadium to cheer on the team.
“The energy from the fans gives us more than they know,” Boswell said. “The energy in the dugout is all from the environment around us.”
Darke even said that when he saw the size of the crowd, he even got a little nervous.
“I thought the big crowd was actually going to stress me out, but it really settled me in perfectly,” Darke said.
McCollum said he did not know whether his team was going on a unique run of victories, beating historic high school baseball programs such as Mill Creek and now Grayson. All he knew was that his team was hitting, fielding, running and pitching.
However, Boswell does not want to hear anything about the Bulldogs being a "Cinderella story" or a "team of destiny."
“We’re no underdogs here,” Boswell said. “We want it so bad. It would mean the world to us.”
Central advances to the Class 7A semifinals, where the Bulldogs will travel to Dallas, Georgia, on Monday to take on North Paulding for a chance to advance to the state championship.