With each passing frame, the story became all too familiar for Lambert Wednesday night. The Longhorns trailed 2-1 and were a strike away from falling to North Forsyth, not just for the second time this season but by the same exact score.
Jeremy Johnson knew if he had one more shot at it, he could rewrite the evening.
Johnson was 0-for-2 when he stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the seventh with two outs already on the board. Nick Guimbarda, pinch running for Jake Tomelevage, who reached on a walk to begin the inning, stood on first. With one swing, Johnson tripled to the right-center gap to bring Guimbarda all the way around to home to tie the contest.
Then Johnson came home on a passed ball on a third, swinging strike from J.D. Dutka and the Longhorns escaped with a dramatic 3-2 win over its budding rival.
“It was a huge win for us. It's still early though. There's still a lot more room for error,” Johnson said, catching his breath. “We kept our energy up, we believed. I struggled at the plate earlier in the game but I just went up one last time knowing I had to forget about that and just make something happen.”
The victory keeps Lambert (12-5, 8-1) on top of the Region 6-AAAAAA standings. North (10-6-1, 8-3) could have claimed the lead in the region with a win. They were a glove away from doing just that.
“That was a great game. We were one strike away,” North coach Jim Cahill said. “The entire game was a battle. Their guys pitched well, our guys pitched well. It was about as good of a high school game as you can get.”
Until Johnson's heroics, the game was steadily controlled by North pitcher Matthew Heard, who scattered four hits and two walks against four strikeouts through six frames before getting pulled in the seventh after allowing the walk to Tomelevage.
Then Andrew Grogan retired the next two batters, including one strikeout, before Johnson's triple.
Lambert's starting pitching was just as solid: Dutka recorded 10 strikeouts, allowed five hits and did not walk a single batter, but did hit two batters to start the third frame, though no runs came home in that inning for North.
The Raiders took a 2-0 lead in the top of the sixth when Cory Campbell brought home Brant Stark from second. Campbell then moved to third off a double from Dakota Chalmers and came home on a passed ball.
Lambert made the score 2-1 when Dutka, who singled to begin the bottom of the sixth, advanced to third off a single from Seth Beer and then scored off a fielder's choice.
Lambert coach Drew Ferrer felt like the game was a showcase of great baseball more than it was a key victory.
“That's a very good team (in North),” Ferrer said. “Two good pitchers went at it all night. It was a fun game to watch if you like baseball. I told Jeremy to be ready to run on something like a passed ball, and sure enough that's what happened. J.D. had the best strikeout for us all year.”
North's Max Bening was the only player in the game to have multiple hits, going 2-for-3 with a double.