There were few worse potential scenarios or harbingers for Cameron Smith than to have walked the first two batters the Lambert senior pitcher faced Friday at rival South Forsyth.
He regretted just two pitches the rest of the way.
Smith worked around two solo home runs in Lambert’s 4-2 win, punctuating a promising first week of Region 5-7A play for the Longhorns.
“Cam threw an outstanding game today,” Lambert head coach Rick Howard said. “Couldn’t be more proud of him. We played really good defense behind him. And we competed. That’s what I’m looking for.”
Howard had a lot to look for in his team to start the season, his second at the school. Graduation took from the Longhorns (8-7) their starting rotation, entire outfield, half of their infield and catcher. With the roster logjammed by seniors for two straight years, Howard was forced to turn to an overall inexperienced group.
Like Smith. The senior appeared in one game last season, as a pinch runner. He pitched no varsity innings.
On Friday, he threw all seven and struck out six, allowing five hits with two walks, the two he issued to start the game.
“Honestly, their mound is a lot higher than ours,” Smith said. “So it threw me off for a little bit, but then I adjusted to it and it was fine and a lot of fun.”
Indeed, Smith battled back from those walks to Bradley Prince Jr. and Brett Graczyk by striking out Max Schmal and inducing a groundball from Grant Pearce for an inning-ending double play.
Smith’s two biggest mistakes were on solo home runs to Prince Jr. in the third and Pearce in the sixth, but the senior pitched on undeterred.
“I don’t let (home runs) affect me. Just next pitch,” Smith said. “I’m throwing to them giving them the best I’ve got. If they hit it, good for them, good job, tip your hat and then next pitch.”
It helped, Smith said, that he pitched with a lead for most of the game. Chris West gave that to him in the top of the first with a single that drove in Josh McAllister. Prince Jr.’s home run briefly tied it, but Lambert responded, getting solo home runs from West and Collin Price in the top of the fourth, an uncharacteristic – but welcome – look for the Longhorns.
“That’s not been our repertoire,” Howard said. “I think we had two (home runs) coming in to this. I think we’re capable of hitting some. But that’s not our style of play.”
No, the Longhorns more resemble the run-manufacturing team they were in the top of the sixth that with runners on the corners got South (9-5, 2-1) to bite on a delayed double steal to go up 4-1.
“I felt like we got a little too high at times and lost control of being able to slow the game down,” South head coach Russ Bayer said. “The game got a little quick some times. We kind of played outside of ourselves a little bit.”
And Smith stayed within himself, mixing pitches and locations well enough to flummox a strong South lineup that came in encouraged by back-to-back wins against rival North Forsyth.
But after Pearce’s home run in the sixth, Smith retired the final five batters he faced, three on infield pop-ups.
“I was locating all my pitches pretty well,” Smith said. “I think my changeup was working pretty decent. I left it up a few times obviously, but other than that I was locating well overall.”