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Baseball: Lambert stays in playoff hunt with close win over South
Lambert's Jack Ferguson jumps up after scoring the go-ahead run in the Longhorns' game against South Forsyth on March 29, 2019 at South Forsyth High School. - photo by Ian Frazer

By Steven Watkins

For the Forsyth County News

With two outs on the board and trailing 5-4 in Friday night’s home matchup against Lambert, South Forsyth infielder Jake Witterman stepped back into the batter’s box and stared back at Longhorn relief pitcher Richard Ferrer-Westrop.

With a single pitch separating both teams from a loss that either scarcely could afford, Witterman sat ready in the box as Westrop leaned in for his sign, wound and delivered. The ball zipped in for a called third strike, and Lambert came away with a 5-4 win, crucial to its hopes of staying in the state playoff race. The Longhorns are now 6-16 and 4-6 in Region 5-7A, while the War Eagles fell to 8-11, 2-8.

Lambert's Richard Ferrer-Westrop delivers a pitch during the Longhorns' game against South Forsyth on March 29, 2019 at South Forsyth High School. - photo by Ian Frazer
The game had a promising start for South, with the War Eagles scoring a run in the first on an error in the first and another on a Landon Sims home run in the fourth.

With a two-run lead and cruising his way through a one-hit shutout, South starter Peyton Rawlins continued his solid, early performance by retiring his first two fifth-inning batters, until Lambert’s Nate Gabbert stepped in.

Having already recorded the sole hit for his team, Gabbert took the first pitch he saw deep to the opposite field and off of the glove of the South right-fielder for a double.

A hit batter put runners on first and second for catcher Garrett Hollenbeck, who, after falling behind 0-2 to Rawlins, slapped a bloop fly smack into a spot in shallow right-field where no South player could reach it, scoring Gabbert and putting runners at the corners.

The very next pitch, Jonathan Hemings jumped on an early fastball, sending on what on first-appearance looked to be the final out of the inning midway to left-field. Facing the sun and failing to get an initial read on the ball, though the South left fielder backpedaled, attempted to recover with a sliding catch, and the ball thudded into the outfield grass as two more Longhorns touched home.

Parker Brosius followed with yet another first-pitch single and plated the fourth Lambert run of the inning, with each of them having occurred with two outs.

“I was really, really proud of how they battled,” Lambert head coach Rick Howard said. “We got four runs on two outs, which is huge.”

South Forsyth's Cole Kliphouse celebrates after hitting a two-run home run during the War Eagles' game against Lambert on March 29, 2019 at South Forsyth High School. - photo by Ian Frazer
In spite of the fifth-inning, four-run swing, South responded with a sixth-inning pair of their own runs. With a runner on, two outs and having battled back to a full count after starting 0-2, South senior Cole Kliphouse finished easily the most impressive at-bat of the night by sending the 10th pitch from Lambert starter Daniel Fischer out to center for a game-tying, two-run homer.

“Unfortunately they got back into it, but we didn’t collapse our heads and say here we go again,” Howard said. “We said we’re going to compete, and we stepped up.”

In the seventh, after loading the bases with a one-out walk, a single and an intentional walk, Lambert’s Will Hensley entered the batter’s box looking to help create the crucial run in any way he possibly could. Leading off from third, courtesy runner Jack Ferguson sought the same.

On a 1-0 count, Hensley hit a fly ball midway to center-field. Ferguson tagged, took off, and slid around and outside of the plate, just grazing it with an outstretched left hand that would score the final and deciding run of the game.

“They played an awesome game, and I doubt very seriously that this is going to define their season,” Howard said of his team’s opponent. “They could come back and go on a tear and who knows what could happen.”