When Lambert softball team walked into North Forsyth High School’s away dugout on Tuesday, they knew they were in for a daunting task.
The Longhorns were fresh off a dramatic walk-off victory over Milton, but for the right to play for Region 5-7A’s No. 3 seed, they’d have to beat Forsyth Central, a team that they couldn’t defeat during the regular season.
But when Lambert looked across the diamond, they saw a missing face: Bulldogs ace Bailey McCachren. A sickness had been making its way through Central’s dugout, and the Tennessee commit was a scratch due to a high fever. Lambert would have a good chance to finally come out on top against the Bulldogs, but at the same time, they had to keep their expectations grounded.
“We saw it as an opportunity, and we talked about that before the game with everybody,” Lindsey Nelson said. “We still had to come out, we still had to win this game. They're not going to give it to us.”
And while Central didn’t just give the game away, the Bulldogs certainly missed their star pitcher on Tuesday, as they allowed 12 hits in six-inning, 9-1 loss to the Longhorns. Lambert clinched a playoff berth with the win, and will face the winner of tomorrow’s Central/Milton elimination game.
“It checks off a goal that we had coming into the season to play in October, to make it to the playoffs,” Lambert head coach Brooks Youngblood said. “We missed out on that for the first time in five years or something like that, and that stung last year. It stung for me, so I can't imagine how that felt for the girls to be sitting at home in October.
“It's a huge relief. You do something that you've been setting your mind to. You get it done and you can take a breath. I'm happy for this group.”
After two scoreless innings to start the game, Lambert (9-13) took their first lead in the third with a Central (11-16) error that scored Allie Sewell and Colleen Thorson. The Bulldogs scored their only run in the bottom half with a Lauren Wall RBI double, but Central could string together the hits to back up starter Kristi Brower.
“It is what it is,” Central head coach Paul Cromie said. “We battled. (Not having Bailey was) not an excuse. They hit the ball, they made the plays. We made some errors but not enough to change the outcome. We're just going to have to regroup. We're going to have to get back tomorrow. Obviously the important thing is to take care of the first game to assure ourselves a playoff spot. Anything after that, we'll take it as it comes.”
Lambert continued to pile on the runs from that point, with RBI hits from Brooke Miller, Ansley Hyde, Sewell and Anna Jackson over the next three innings setting the run rule into motion. Sauer, who was also Lambert’s starting pitcher, didn’t strike anyone out but got all the groundballs she needed to get outs. Kirsten Cowart closed the game out with one punchout over two frames.
“I've said this before -- I like our pitching staff,” Youngblood said. “I like the two that we have and one that we haven't even had to use yet this week and fourth one that we can use, too. We've got pitching depth, and it showed there in the end.”
With one of Lambert’s key goals for the season reached, the expectations have now shifted. The Longhorns are playing their best ball at the right time, and while they couldn’t compete for a region title, they’ll look to enter the state playoffs on a winning streak.
“I think we wanted to be playing in the nightcap here and thought we had a chance to be able to do that,” Youngblood said. “That kind of got taken away earlier in the region season, and for a minute there, we were bummed out about it and kind of scuffled a little bit. I think we're finding our groove, and we've just got to stay the course.”