North Forsyth capitalized on their opportunities Friday night as the Raiders swept North Gwinnett 8-5 and 7-2 to win their first playoff series since 2006.
The Raiders (19-9) have had pro-level talent, region championships and nearly-perfect records, yet they never seemed to be able to put it all together in playoffs in recent years. The last time North won a playoff series was a sweep of Mays when the Raiders played in Class AAAA.
When North hosted North Gwinnett on Friday, it did not have its best record, best talent or a region championship. This team had its flaws and frustrating losses this year, but the Raiders put it together for two of the program’s biggest wins to advance to the second round of the state playoffs where they’ll face the winner of Rockdale County and South Cobb.
“We overcame some things and battled,” North Forsyth baseball coach Jim Cahill said. “We’re headed to the second round.”
It took almost no time for North Forsyth to get its bats going. Cory Campbell knocked in Zac Slaton in the bottom of the first to tie the game at 1-1. In the bottom of the second inning, Kyle Martin led off with a double and was eventually knocked in by Gavin Schubiger.
North Gwinnett found success at the plate the entire night, but they could never seem to turn it into runs. In the first game alone, the Bulldogs left 15 runners stranded. In the first and fourth innings, they left the bases loaded and only managed to score one run.
While starting pitcher J.B. Finnemore allowed plenty of base runners, he only let two runs cross the plate in his four innings of work. Finnemore’s control of the game radiated onto his teammates, especially the power hitting duo of Campbell and Parker Enright. They hit back-to-back home runs in the third inning to give North a 4-2 lead.
The most runs the Raiders allowed in an inning all night was in the top of the seventh. North Gwinnett strung together four hits and one batter was hit by a pitch to get the lead down to three. The Bulldogs had the tying run at the plate, but pitcher Bailey Gerstner struck him out to end the first game.
Game 2 followed a similar arch. The Raiders got the bats swinging well early as Slaton led off the game with a single. Campbell continued his hot night at the plate when he blasted a shot over the left center wall to give North Forsyth an early 2-0 lead.
North Gwinnett didn’t challenge that lead until the third inning. The Bulldogs loaded the bases with no outs. After a strikeout by starting pitcher Tyler Koch, North Gwinnett’s Michael Germano hit a low, soft line drive towards first basemen Kyle Martin. Martin dove and caught the ball, but the umpires deemed the ball to have hit the ground. Instead of escaping the inning off a double play, the Raiders gave up two runs that tied the game.
With tensions towards the umpiring high, Andrew Grogan took control. Grogan entered the game in relief and shut down the Bulldogs offense. In three innings of work, he allowed one hit and struck out five batters.
Grogan helped himself at the plate as well. He knocked in the first of four runs in the sixth inning to give the Raiders their 7-2 lead.
“I just wanted to throw strikes and get ahead of the hitters,” said Grogan. “It was the best I have felt on the mound all year.”