Ten days had passed since Lambert last played a baseball game entering Monday. The Longhorns’ schedule had fallen victim to days of relentless rain, but the team tried its best to make the time worthwhile. There were afternoons of fielding practice in the school gymnasium. By Saturday, desperation set in, so they pulled back one of the lanes in the team’s hitting facility to let pitchers throw real pitches to real batters.
“We felt bad for the next team that was going to play us,” Longhorns centerfielder Jeremy Johnson said. “We were just hungry to come out and play again.”
So Monday’s 16-3 victory in five innings over West Forsyth in a Region 6-AAAAAA game on the road quickly turned into a cathartic experience for the Longhorns. They pounded out 14 hits, including four for extra bases. They scored runs in bunches, plating five in the second inning, three in the third and eight in the fifth. Twice they batted around the order in a single inning.
“When you take as much time as we did off you don’t know how your kids are going to respond,” Lambert head coach Drew Ferrer said. “At practices you’re trying to be creative to find ways to emulate at-bats, and so we tried to do a good job of that at our hitting facility, trying to give the kids live at-bats. I think that worked.”
Time and circumstance built a heavy dose of anticipation into Monday’s game. The game was originally scheduled for March 23 but got rained out. They tried again last Tuesday to no avail. Storms passed near Forsyth County in the afternoon as the area was under a tornado watch until 3:30, pushing back first pitch from 5:55 to 8.
All the while the teams fit in other games, and the region outlook began to materialize. Lambert (15-5, 11-1) entered one game ahead of West (15-7, 13-3) in the region standings for first place. The Wolverines came in on a tear, winners of seven straight games.
But the Longhorns asserted their dominance early on. Will Dunavant led off the top of the second with a line drive to deep right for a sure double. He stretched it into a triple after West senior outfielder Nathan Schmitz injured his ankle pursuing the ball to the outfield wall. Silence gripped Wolverines players as Schmitz came back to the dugout hanging on trainer Richard Good and assistant coach Jim Ernst. He spent the rest of the game with his ankle propped up on the dugout bench wrapped in ice.
Then the onslaught resumed. Bradley Leathers drove in Dunavant, Chris Cumming drove in Leathers, Johnson drove in Cummings. JD Dutka and Seth Beer added run-scoring hits. Johnson drove in two more in the third as part of a three-run inning. His double in the fifth drove in another two runners to start an eight-run inning and give the Auburn signee five RBIs.
The night went Lambert’s way. When Ferrer summoned Eric Furphy and Nick Guimbarda for pinch-hit appearances in the fifth, they delivered – Furphy with a two-run double, Guimbarda with a hard line drive to right to drive in two more. West committed six errors. Dutka threw five solid innings, and when his early dominance wavered – when West’s Alec Wilson ripped an RBI double in the third and Andrew Reynolds scolded a two-run single in the fourth to make it 8-3 – Lambert’s lineup restored order.
“The kids came out and in the second and third put a lot of hits on the board and did a great job of putting pressure on [West] and scoring runs,” Ferrer said.
It made for an auspicious start to a daunting week for Lambert. Rescheduled games have piled up for the Longhorns as the regular season reaches its conclusion. Monday was the start of a stretch of seven games in six days for Lambert, including two games on the road Tuesday and a rematch with West on Thursday, a flurry of action after days of idleness.
But on Monday, Lambert was just glad to be back on the field.
“We’re just focusing on all these games one game at a time,” Johnson said. “We don’t look ahead to see how many games we have this week or who we play next or whatever. We just worry about the next game on our schedule.”