Collin Price stepped to the plate in the bottom of the fifth inning with two outs and the bases loaded, but the pressure was already off the Lambert catcher.
Jack Fleming had snuck a single into right field the batter before him to drive in a run and tie a close and pivotal region game against West Forsyth. Whatever the outcome of Price’s at-bat, the Longhorns were no longer seven outs away from a disappointing loss.
“Knowing that even if I didn’t get a hit we’d still be in the game – knowing that, if really helped out a lot,” Price said.
So Price helped out the Longhorns, driving a two-run double into the left-field corner to spark a five-run inning and a 6-2 victory at home Friday. Price finished 2-for-3 with three RBI, an encouraging respite from some recent struggles at the plate.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit, but it’s been alright,” Price said, “because knowing I got all these other guys got my back.”
Indeed, Lambert (12-9, 7-2) fashioned an uncharacteristic inning in the fifth in that every Longhorns batter came to the plate against West starter Bryar Hawkins. The Clemson commit helped the Longhorns by issuing a walk and hitting two batters. Still, those were mixed around a strikeout and fielder’s choice. West had two outs and a 2-1 lead.
Until Fleming’s single and Price’s double and Chris West’s bloop single the next batter that drove in two more runs, a string of crucial hits with two outs that produced the sort of crooked inning Lambert has hardly experienced this season, particularly in region play.
“We needed that,” Lambert head coach Rick Howard said. “That’s something we’ve been looking for and fighting for. I give our kids a lot of credit.”
From there, Payton McPherson did the rest on the mound. He relieved starter Cameron Smith after four innings and brought a different dynamic for West’s lineup. Wolverines coach Mike Pruitt noticed it right away during McPherson’s warm-up pitches, noting to his team McPherson’s increased velocity compared to Smith.
But West couldn’t adjust. McPherson retired nine of the 11 batters he faced with seven strikeouts.
“He did an outstanding job,” Howard said, “and he’s been doing that all year. I’ve been very, very proud of him.”
This week marked the mid-way point of the region schedule, and it was the only one in which teams faced the same opponent in three consecutive games. Lambert was happy to get two more wins out of it and preserve first place going into spring break.
“We knew it was going to be a tough week, a big week,” Price said. “It was a good week.”