South Forsyth beat Lambert at its own game.
The War Eagles came back from a three-run deficit Tuesday in the Region 7-AAAA opener at War Eagle Field and earned a 5-4 victory against the No. 3-ranked Longhorns — a team that rallied to win each of its first three games this season.
South (5-1 overall, 1-0 Region 7-AAAA) stranded 12 baserunners but benefitted from three hit-by-pitch plate appearances, six walks and three Lambert (3-1, 0-1) errors. Each of the War Eagles’ five runs either reached base or scored because of a walk or hit batsman.
War Eagles senior left-hander Micah Dunn (7 IP, 11 K, 4 H, 3 BB, 2 HBP, 4 R) retired the final 10 Lambert batters he faced to pick up the victory on the mound, and South backed him up with clean play in the field after the first inning.
“The two big things that have really carried us are our pitching and our defense,” South coach Russ Bayer said.
“Micah did a heck of a job tonight. His first-pitch strikes were amazing.”
Dunn’s pick-off move also caught the Longhorns off-guard early, but South’s inability to get an out in one rundown led to two early runs.
After issuing a leadoff walk to Tanner Scroggins and picking him off, Dunn hit Brock Maxwell (1-for-2, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R) with a pitch with two outs, then caught him too far off first as well.
But South didn’t execute the chase sequence properly, and Maxwell wound up safe back at first, prolonging the inning. Justin Reichling (1-for-3, 2B, RBI) followed with a double down the left-field line, and Maxwell was called safe on a close play at the plate.
Danny Edgeworth followed with an infield single which allowed Reichling to score after the throw to first base sailed wide, giving Lambert a quick 2-0 lead.
South loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning when Zack McCrum (2-for-4, RBI) delivered a one-out base hit off Maxwell (3.1 IP, 2 K, 6 BB, 2 HBP, 4 R) following a leadoff single by Andrew Cooley and a walk to Austin Jacques.
Dunn (1-for-3, 3 RBI) helped himself at the plate, fouling off a pair of 3-2 pitches before drawing a walk and forcing in a run, but Maxwell got Jesse Gonzalez to ground into an inning-ending double play and prevent any further damage.
Walks have been a thorn in the side of Lambert pitchers all season.
“We’ve just got to work on throwing the ball over the white part of the plate,” Longhorns coach Jamie Corr said.
Like Dunn, Maxwell helped himself at the plate and padded the Longhorns’ lead to 4-1 in the third with a towering two-run blast well beyond the right field fence.
South threatened at the plate for the third consecutive inning in the bottom of the frame, loading the bases with two outs with the help of two Lambert errors, but freshman Michael Strait fouled out to first base to end the threat. The War Eagles stranded eight runners in the first three innings alone.
“We left too many runners on base,” Bayer said. “We could have put five or six on the board in one of those innings when we had the bases loaded [but], knowing Lambert and Coach Corr, they’re a very strong team, they probably would have battled right back anyways.
“Looking ahead, we can’t afford to have guys in scoring position like that with less than two outs and not move somebody in. Our two-strike approach is not where it needs to be.”
The War Eagles finally broke through in the bottom of the fourth, when Maxwell was pulled after loading the bases with one out via two walks and a hit batsman.
McCrum pulled an RBI single through the left side of the infield off reliever Clay Crosby, and Dunn yanked one through the right side to narrow South’s gap to 4-3.
Pinch hitter Zach Sforzo hit a third-straight grounder off Crosby and, though it didn’t make it out of the infield, the Longhorns were forced to settle for a force out at second and conceded the tying run.
South broke the stalemate in the bottom of the sixth with the help of only one hit in the inning — a single by Devin Gearhart.
Cooley was hit by a pitch to start the inning, and Jacques’ sac bunt attempt left him safe at first when David Broadus couldn’t scoop a throw from Edgeworth out of the dirt. Gearhart then singled to load the bases with no one out.
Two batters later, Dunn delivered an RBI ground out off reliever Brian Watson to put South on top for the first time. Dunn did the rest on the mound, getting Zack Schlosser to ground out to end the game.
“Dunn was masterful on the mound tonight,” Corr said. “He commanded both sides of the plate and threw multiple pitches for strikes wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted.”
Bayer said one win doesn’t mean a lot in the grand scheme of a 20-game region schedule, but he hopes it affects some of the team’s intangibles.
“To get a win in that situation and that environment, I think it does a lot for them in terms of their confidence and also starting some momentum in region play,” he said.