As Forsyth Central head softball coach Paul Cromie walked into the visitors’ dugout on Wednesday night, he was greeted in ways that family members greet their own.
That’s because he was previously one of North Gwinnett's own, where he served as an assistant for the last nine years of his coaching career. Every player and coach that greeted him with a hug, a handshake, or a smile all meant something to him.
“It's emotional,” Cromie said. “These girls that we played against, I've had them all, played with them, coached them since middle school on up. It's special in that sense.”
But on this night, Cromie and his current team had the task of getting their third win in a row to start the year. The Bulldogs couldn’t accomplish that, taking a 3-1 loss, but Cromie was not down about it in the slightest.
“To me, there's no better measuring stick that playing against a team like North (Gwinnett) to see just where Central is at this (point),” he said. “I couldn't be prouder of my girls hanging in there.
Staying positive and hanging in was certainly a tough task for Central, as they faced North Gwinnett ace Chandler Dennis. Having her opposite of Central No. 1 Bailey McCachren was just what Cromie drew up.
“I've known (Dennis) the last three years I coached her,” Cromie said. “She was Georgia state player of the year as a sophomore. I called (North Gwinnett coach Randy) Black and made sure that he threw Chandler against us. I wanted my No. 1 pitcher to go against their No. 1 pitcher. That's the only way we're going to get better.”
For the first five innings, it was just the test Cromie asked for. Dennis struck out eight of the first nine Central batters she faced, beginning her start with a perfect 4 1/3 innings and 5 1/3 no hit frames. Central’s hitters had to be more patient.
“We talked to the girls,” Cromie said. “'Change things up. Make adjustments.' Things that we work on in practice all the time. They made those adjustments.”
With one out in the sixth, those changes began to pay off, with Ansley Clark just reaching on an infield grounder for Central’s first knock of the night. Sydney Moroney followed that up with a single to right, scoring Clark from second to break the shutout. Sadie Waters added Central’s third hit to put two runners in scoring position, but Dennis’ 12th strikeout ended Bulldogs’ only rally of the night.
McCachren threw well despite taking the loss, striking out six and allowing six hits and two walks.
After the game, Cromie gathered his new family together to tell them he was proud of them. To him, the trials his team went through during his first loss as Forsyth Central's head coach were just one step in a grander goal.
“If we can hang with a team like this, there's no reason we can't do well in our region,” he said. “They've welcomed me with open arms. I was very clear with what my expectations were in terms of work ethic and what we do in practices. They've adjusted great. They're buying in, and that's all I can ask for.”