The Lambert Longhorns dropped both of their games at home to Walton on Tuesday in dramatic, heart-breaking fashion - first a 3-1 loss that ended with the bases-loaded for the Longhorns, the second 5-4 game shared similar drama, but Lambert lost 5-4.
Lambert knew the stakes that this series presented. Walton entered as the No. 1 team in Class AAAAAA and filled with top-level talent, led by senior shortstop Carter Kieboom, a Clemson signee and expected first- or second-round pick in this summer’s MLB Draft. It was also potentially the seniors’ last game in what has been arguably one of the best three-year runs in Forsyth County baseball history. All eyes were on the Longhorns.
Cole Varner got the start for Lambert in the first game, and he started the night with a quick 1-2-3 inning. Varner looked good all night, throwing a complete game and only allowing seven hits.
Walton struck first, though, utilizing small-ball tactics to advance their leadoff runner to third base, setting up an RBI single.
It wasn’t until the fourth inning where Lambert finally threatened to score. With runners on second and third and two outs, Michael Raiano sent a fly ball into right field. Josh McAllister tagged up on third base and looked like he scored, but a throw from right field beat the runner going from second to third base. The umpires nullified the run, leaving Walton with a one-run lead.
The bottom of the lineup provided most of Lambert’s offense throughout the night. Will Gabbert crushed his first of two doubles to begin the fifth. A wild pitch advanced Gabbert, and Parker Scruggs knocked him in with a single, tying the game.
Walton added two more runs in the sixth and seventh innings, but the bottom of the lineup put Lambert in a position to steal the win. With two outs, Daniel Mickelson roped a single and Gabbert nailed another double. Scruggs hit a chopping groundball over third base, which would have scored both runners and tied the game. The umpires ruled the ball foul, and Scruggs would be hit-by-a-pitch to load the bases.
“When you get to this level, everything is elevated. One play can be detrimental or huge. In this situation, you are talking about three runs,” Lambert head coach Rick Howard said. “They [the umpires] saw them the way they saw them, but I saw them a little differently.”
Jarrett Wright ended the game with a line drive to center field that was caught.
Zach Graveno took the mound for Lambert in the second game, but the recently named Region 6-AAAAAA pitcher of the year struggled to find his rhythm. Graveno allowed a two-run homerun in the first inning, giving Walton another early lead. He ended the night allowing 12 hits and four earned runs.
Walton took a 4-1 lead in the third with a five-hit inning. Lambert battled back in the fourth when Mickelson hit an RBI-double and Gabbert hit a two-RBI single, tying the game at four. A throwing error that would have ended the inning allowed for a free Walton run, which ultimately gave them the lead and the win.
“Couldn’t be more proud of how the kids fought today,” said Howard. “They fought until the end.”