There couldn't have been much worse punishment on a cold, windy, rainy night, but on multiple occasions during the Lambert baseball team's game against West Forsyth on Monday evening, Payton MacPherson had to wait.
The first time was in the fourth inning, when confusion over whether the count on Matthew Cassandra was 2-2 or 3-2 led to a two-odd minute delay as coaches and umpires consulted each other. It was determined to be 3-2, but it didn't really matter, because MacPherson zipped a fastball past Cassandra on the next pitch.
Then, at the start of the sixth inning, MacPherson had to wait even longer as West head coach Mike Pruitt tried to determine whether Lambert's Cooper McCann had actually been ejected at the end of the previous half-inning. (After discussion between the umpires, he was.) MacPherson threw a set of warm-up pitches, stopped, and then threw some more. At one point, observing Pruitt's discussion, MacPherson threw up his arms in frustration.
Again, the delay was of no consequence to the senior righthander. He got Ryan Gray to ground out on three pitches, then struck out Bryce Hawkins and Indy Stanley. MacPherson then threw an easy seventh inning, bagging two more strikeouts, to finish his complete-game performance and give Lambert a 3-2 win, keeping the Longhorns (7-11, 3-4 Region 5-7A) in an increasingly hectic race for a state playoff spot.
"He's been that like that all year long," Longhorns head coach Rick Howard said of MacPherson. "Unfortunately, there have been some times where we haven't given him the run support that he really deserves. We almost didn't give it to him tonight."
FINAL: Lambert 3, West 2. Here’s the game-ending strikeout from Payton MacPherson, who shoved. pic.twitter.com/ZqTZ528h2k— Ian Frazer (@ianmcfrazer) March 26, 2018
Neither team made a particularly strong show of offense on Monday. The Longhorns opened their scoring with a solo home run from Jonathan Hemings, and then had an RBI single from Collin Price in the third inning and an RBI groundout from John Thompson in the fourth. West scored a run in the fourth when Connor Kirley singled, advanced to third on an errant pickoff throw, and came home on the groundout, and the Wolverines added another in the fifth when Mark Ellenburg flaired a double into shallow left, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on a groundout.
That one-run advantage was just fine for MacPherson, who worked quickly, allowed just four hits and no walks, and had 10 strikeouts, mixing a running fastball and diving slider to both sides of the plate. MacPherson entered the seventh inning having thrown 88 pitches, putting him in danger of running into the pitch limit, but he retired the Wolverines (6-13, 1-6) with just nine.
"Amazing," MacPherson said when asked how he felt during the outing. "It felt good to throw a complete game again."
The win on Tuesday kept Lambert squarely in the middle of the crowded region standings. The Longhorns are one of two 3-4 teams, alongside North Forsyth, and after Forsyth Central won and Milton lost on Monday, those two teams are tied at 3-3. Any of those teams could conceivably get a home playoff seed, or even miss out on the postseason altogether.
The three games this week will likely be crucial in deciding the teams' separation. MacPherson, for one, is confident about the Longhorns' chances of finishing strong. Monday's win was the third in a row for Lambert.
"We weren't doing too hot in the beginning, but we've got ourselves back together, and we're back," he said. "It's a new team right now."