Beneath its own scoreboard, North Forsyth’s baseball team listened to head coach Jim Cahill try to put in to words the maelstrom – both literally and figuratively – the Raiders had just endured in 2-0 and 7-6 losses to South Cobb on Wednesday in the second round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs.
Cahill knew it was not time to talk about the single innings in each game where promising circumstances went to ruin, or the blustery rain in the second game that was at its worst when North had a chance to save its season, or how achingly close the Raiders still came each time to finding a way.
The facts were the facts: South Cobb (18-13) advanced to the state quarterfinals to face Pope, while North ended its season at 19-11.
“I’m proud of them. I love them,” Cahill said he told the team. “They fought. They’re a great group of seniors, a great group of guys. Obviously, we want to keep playing, but you got to tip your cap to South Cobb. They did a good job. They came in here and played better than we did.”
Game 1 was for the pitchers. North’s Andrew Grogan was brilliant for seven innings, allowing just three hits and no walks on 76 pitches, matching South Cobb ace Devin Lucas in a scoreless game. But then baseball things began to happen to him and the Raiders in the eighth.
With one out, the Eagles’ Kyree Hawkins singled up the middle, then moved to second on a sharp liner by Lucas back at Grogan that ricocheted off his glove toward third base. Grogan recovered to make the play, but the effort it took gave Hawkins time to advance to second. Jose Bustamante reached one batter later on an infield error.
Alex Rodriguez poked a slicing blooper toward the edge of shallow right field. North second baseman Bailey Gerstner chased and chased, seemingly flummoxed by the ball’s spin and trajectory. Gerstner made a diving attempt, but the ball hit dirt before glove, and the Eagles had finally struck. Thomas Leffew followed with a sure groundball into left field to drive in Bustamante.
Even still, North responded. The Raiders were down to their final out with runners on first and third when slugger Cory Campbell came to the plate. He blasted the first pitch he saw, and the ball soared toward the trees beyond the outfield wall in center. It was caught, though: first by the strong winds, then by Hawkins less than a foot from the wall.
“[Grogan] did fantastic,” Cahill said. “His pitch count was down. They just got some tough hits. The ball bounced their way and didn’t bounce our way.”
Game 2 was for the weather. Ominous clouds approached just before first pitch. Rain began to fall by the third inning, at which point North led 4-0 and Raiders starter Tyler Koch was working on a no-hitter.
North led 5-2 going into the bottom of the sixth inning, six outs away from forcing a decisive Game 3. By then, the rain and wind had become brutal. Down the road, umpires suspended play three innings into the second game of Forsyth Central’s second round doubleheader. North and South Cobb played on.
The Raiders unraveled. A walk, two errors and two hits produced five runs for South Cobb. The Eagles led 7-5.
After North escaped its nightmarish sixth inning, the Raiders clung to the hope that its grit would win out. That hope swelled when Collin Sanders crushed a pinch-hit home run, cutting South Cobb’s lead to one. It grew more when Carter Mullikin followed with a pinch-hit single to give the top of North’s lineup a chance. Instead, Zac Slaton struck out looking on a breaking ball. The game, and the season, was over.
“I don’t want to make excuses,” Cahill said about playing through the weather. “They’re a gritty team. They came in fighting. They took it to us.”
As players and coaches lumbered back to the dugout, Cahill’s family met him in shallow left field. His young daughter was jubilant. His son was despondent. Cahill consoled him.
“He’s like the 26th man on the team,” Cahill said.
Holding his daughter on his hip, Cahill looked up at a dark sky that was perfectly still.
“It’s not even raining right now,” he said.