As night began to fall on Lambert’s matchup with North Forsyth on Thursday, the sound of sighs and thrown bats only grew louder.
With no runs over 11 innings of baseball, the frustration and exasperation was beginning to mount in both dugouts. So when the Longhorns’ Jonathan Hemings stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the 12th, he had not only Lambert’s hopes of a critical win on his shoulders, but potential relief after almost two games’ worth of baseball played.
His opportunity was better than any hitter on either side had faced to that point. After a rare North Forsyth error in a scoreless game full of solid fielding by both teams, Hemings faced down the Raiders’ Matthew Gist with the bases loaded. And after three hours of waiting, he finally delivered the game’s first runs with a double to left that scored Will Hensley and Nate Gabbert.
“He threw the ball outside, and I was just trying to take it the opposite way,” Hemings said. “I wasn't trying to hit a home run or anything, just trying to get runners in and that's what happened.”
And with the way the Longhorns’ pitching had performed all night, that was more than enough to end an eventual 3-0 win over the Raiders that took 12 innings to complete. The victory moved Lambert to 5-7 in Region 5-7A, and with South’s loss to Forsyth Central earlier in the day, it put the Longhorns in very good position to secure the fourth playoff spot. North fell to 7-5 in the region.
“(Wins) have unfortunately been few and far between, but that was a great game by both teams,” Lambert coach Rick Howard said. “Their pitchers did an outstanding job. I can’t say enough about our pitchers. (Braden Bamburowski) threw great and Richard (Ferrer-Westrop) came in and did a tremendous job. Great win, especially when you need it.”
Lambert turned to Bamburowski, a sophomore, to oppose North junior Anthony DiMola on the mound. With solid defense behind him, Bamburowski pitched six scoreless innings, striking out seven. Lambert was able to get 11 total hits, but with the Longhorns stranding most of their runners, his role was magnified.
“My offspeed worked well in the early game,” he said. “I struggled at the end, but my fastball was able to keep them on their toes.”
DiMola went a little longer than Bamburowski did, but he was just as effective. He struck out nine and allowed six hits over eight innings, but with five hits, the Raiders were even less productive at the plate than their Lambert counterparts.
“It would been nice if we could've gotten a little support for him,” North head coach Jim Cahill said. “Off their first pitcher, we hit some balls hard and right at guys.”
Ultimately, despite the solid performances by both starters, the game came down to the young relievers. Lambert gave the ball to Ferrer-Westrop in the seventh, and despite allowing more walks than North had hits, the Raiders couldn’t take advantage, and he kept the showdown scoreless for 5 2/3 innings. He’s settled in nicely during his transition from the JV team.
“He's had some really good outings,” Howard said. “We’ve been kind of letting him get some here and there, and today, obviously it was on his shoulders and he carried it.”
After Hemmings' double, Ferrer-Westrop aided his own cause, hitting an RBI single to increase the newfound lead to three. After allowing a walk to start the bottom half, he sat down three straight Raiders to finally end the game, bringing on some much-needed rest.
"We're grateful for a weekend," Howard said. "You kind of get to the point where you get a little tired, so it's important that we keep our feet up under us, but at the same time, we've got work to do. We had some opportunities to score early on, and those are things we need to work on."