MILTON – What more did you want from the Class AAAAAA baseball championship series?
Okay, Lambert fans, besides a sweep.
It is Memorial Day weekend, and we get a thrilling Game 3 on Monday between the Longhorns and defending champ Milton after the teams split their doubleheader Saturday. Lambert squeaked out a 2-1 win in Game 1, Milton shut down the Longhorns for a 5-1 victory in Game 2, and all that’s left is seven innings (at least) to decide the 2014 state champion.
America the beautiful, indeed.
The decisive game of a championship series is one of the pinnacle moments in sports, and only baseball and softball offers this on the high school stage. For every other sport, the fate of a season is decided by one game on one particular day, and one team is inevitably left to ponder after defeat what might have been on a different day.
But not baseball. Baseball allows the spectator to see the arc of a championship. One win can be lucked into. The two needed to clinch a state championship must be earned.
Lambert earned its Game 1 victory.
It got the dominant pitching performance it needed from junior JD Dutka, who scattered seven hits over seven complete innings and allowed just one earned run on 107 pitches.
It manufactured its first run in the second when Jake Chickowski led off with a single and pinch-runner Parker Scruggs moved to second on a wild pitch. He moved to third on a Tucker Maxwell single and came home on a sacrifice fly from Kyle McCann.
It got a clutch hit from Maxwell to drive in its second run in the top of the seventh, a fragile blooper that fell into shallow centerfield to score Dutka from second base.
It got a pickoff in the third inning and a diving catch from leftfielder Jeremy Johnson in the bottom of the sixth inning with a runner on.
And when McCann caught a towering pop-up behind home plate just a foot and a half from foul territory, the Longhorns seized the momentum.
Then Lambert exhibited how not to earn a victory in Game 2.
Pitchers Dylan Biumi and Turner Scruggs made two confounding pickoff throws that led to three runs. Milton managed to score twice in the top of the sixth inning without a hit. The Longhorns scored just one run after loading the bases in the bottom half of the sixth. Lambert had only three hits off Milton starter Alex Schnell, while the Longhorns’ Nos. 6 through 9 hitters went a combined 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts.
The arc of Lambert’s championship hopes suddenly dropped.
And that is the beauty of Monday.
The arc of Lambert’s season, that for so long swung oh so high as it kept winning and rocketed up state and national rankings, is not complete.
The Longhorns earned their place in this pinnacle moment.
Now they get one more game to earn a place in history.
Brian Paglia is sports editor at the Forsyth County News. He can be reached at 770-205-8982, email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @BrianPaglia.