Sometimes just being patient enough not to swing can get the job done.
No. 1-ranked Lambert scored all six of its runs in the bottom of the first inning with the help of four walks and two hit batsmen and remained unbeaten in region play with a 6-4 victory over West Forsyth on Friday at Lambert High School.
The Wolverines chipped away at Lambert’s lead throughout the night and even put the tying run in scoring position in the seventh inning, but reliever Dylan Biumi induced a game-inning ground out to escape the jam.
"I thought we did a good job of coming out and being disciplined at the plate, only swinging at strikes early and we were able to build a nice lead," Lambert head coach Jamie Corr said. "Got to give credit to our bullpen ... to be able to hold on there at the end."
Danny Edgeworth got things going for Lambert (11-2, 5-0 Region 6-AAAAAA) in the bottom of the first with a one-out double to deep right off West starting pitcher Johnny Cassandra. The Wolverines (7-7, 2-3) elected to intentionally walk Brock Maxwell, but cleanup hitter Ian Kimbrell delivered an RBI single and Jake Chickowski brought Maxwell home with an RBI groundout to put Lambert on top 2-0.
Chickowski’s at-bat marked the last time the Longhorns put the ball in play in the inning, but the scoring was far from over.
Billy Whitlock was hit by a pitch and Eric Furphy reached on an error to load the bases after hitting a hard grounder that took a high hop on West third baseman Chris Cullen. Cassandra then walked three of the next four batters and hit another to force in four more runs before being relieved by left-hander Zack Bitzer (3 1/3 IP, 2 K, 1 H, 1 HBP), who struck out Brock Maxwell to prevent any further damage.
"I told [our players], ‘We put it in a box and we wrapped it up and put a pretty little bow on it and just handed it right to them," West head coach Mike Pruitt said. " ... We had the big error that could have killed [the inning] before it got to six [runs], then of course the walks and the hit batsmen."
Bitzer and Mason McWhorter combined to throw 5 1/3 scoreless innings in which they limited Lambert to only two hits and gave the Wolverines a shot at a comeback.
West started cutting into Lambert’s lead in the second when Alex DeCubellis hit a double off the left field wall and scored on a sac fly by Brett Anderson.
The Wolverines knocked Lambert starting pitcher Joe Vonderschmidt (4 1/3, 3 K, 3 ER, 6 H, 1 BB) out of the game in the fifth, after McWhorter drove in a run with an RBI single and Hampton McConnell followed with a base hit of his own. DeCubellis tacked on an RBI ground out off reliever Thomas Reddin, but Jacob Hill flied out to end the inning.
Lambert remained ahead 6-3 going into the seventh before getting a late scare from the Wolverines. Biumi became the Longhorns’ third pitcher of the night after Reddin hit McWhorter with a pitch to start the inning. Biumi ran into his own troubles when he issued a one-out walk to Alec Wilson and gave up an RBI single by Hill.
Cullen struck out swinging for the second out, but Hill still moved into scoring position by stealing second base. DeCubellis laced a couple of hard-hit balls into foul territory down the left-field line before grounding out to end the game.
West finished with nine hits compared to only four for Lambert.
"Definitely the most-nerve-racking way to win a ball game right there," Corr said. "You’ve got to give West a lot of credit; their relievers today did an outstanding job of keeping us off balance and putting up five zeroes in a row."
The loss represented another bitter pill for the Wolverines, who stranded 13 baserunners in a 5-3 loss against South Forsyth on Wednesday. West has dropped its last three games after starting the region schedule 2-0.
"If we capitalize against South and we don’t put ourselves in the hole like we did tonight, then I think we have a chance to win both those games, but that’s baseball," Pruitt said.
"I would be very concerned had we not put ourselves back in position [to win tonight]. "We [got] some good relief from two young left-handers and we battled back. I hope that’s something we can carry over [the rest of the season]."
West players, coaches and parents quickly put the loss aside and gathered around the dugout after the game to present team manager Jeremy Harter with a school letterman jacket for his birthday.
"Jeremy, he’s a special kid," Pruitt said. "He has some form of autism, but he does well in school and [has] a job. His parents are missionaries and they’re gone a lot. He has a lot of siblings that he takes care of ... he’s a very responsible kid. It was good to honor him a little bit tonight on his birthday."
"He’s been wearing that old West jacket that I think [former] Coach [Byron] Orr gave him maybe the first year, so the guys said, ‘Let’s chip in for his birthday and get him a letterman jacket,’ and he deserves it."
West will host East Paulding on Saturday before returning to region action against North Forsyth in a home game on Monday, April 8. Lambert will spend spring break playing in a tournament in Bradenton, Fla, before returning home to host No. 9 Johns Creek in a marquee matchup on April 8.