Tyler Triche knew what to expect.
The second batter due up in the ninth inning of Friday's game against Forsyth Central, Triche watched from the on-deck circle as Casen Blackburn fought through an eight-pitch at-bat.
It was North Forsyth's first look at Thomas Gurr, who came in relief of starting pitcher Will Robbins.
Gurr ultimately struck out Blackburn on a curveball, and Triche figured it wouldn't be long before he saw one.
"I saw a good at-bat from Casen Blackburn before that, when he went to the curveball a lot," Triche said. "I knew from previous at-bats that they'd been starting me off with a curveball, so I went ahead and sat on it."
He didn't have to wait long.
Triche turned on the first pitch he saw — a curveball over the heart of the plate — and crushed it over the left-field wall to break the tie and give North a one-run lead. Andrew Elkhill broke the game open three batters later with a two-run single to help North to a 4-1 victory against the Bulldogs.
Jess Ackerman and Michael Sills combined to pitch nine innings of three-hit ball, each striking out eight batters. Sills was nearly perfect in four innings of relief, allowing just one hit.
"Jess and Michael did an outstanding job and gave us a chance to win," North coach Jim Cahill said. "Our goal coming into the game was to get [Robbins] out of the game, and it took a little longer that we would've liked. He's real good. He had us off-balance all night. He did a great job."
Robbins was dominant yet again, striking out 14 and allowing only one hit and one walk through eight innings.
In fact, North's lone hit off Central's ace came from Triche in the top of the fourth. Triche connected on the first pitch he saw, plating Trystan Davis with an RBI single.
"He's a really good pitcher," Triche said of his future teammate at Georgia Southern. "He attacked me with a fastball my previous at-bat, so I knew he'd probably come at me again. I just saw it out of his hand and knew we needed a big hit."
Central answered in the bottom of the fifth, when AJ Fiechter came around to score after an error by North third baseman Josh Zirlott.
Fiechter reached base after drilling Ackerman with a line-drive comebacker, then stole second two batters later to put himself in scoring position.
Fiechter immediately went to check on Ackerman, who not only stayed in the game, but added two more strikeouts that inning.
"I think him and AJ are pretty good friends, so he was more mad that he didn't catch it," Cahill said. "He'd have to have a bone or something sticking out [to want to leave the game]. He's a pretty tough kid."
Central and North played three scoreless innings, which featured a streak of 10 straight strikeouts between the two clubs, before Triche's home run ended the scoring drought.
Central had a chance in the bottom of the eighth inning to win the game. Matthew Arundale sliced an 0-2 pitch down the right-field line for a leadoff single, then advanced to second after Will Nelms' sacrifice bunt. John Goodrow's groundout put Arundale on third with two outs, but Sills struck out Jackson Boswell to end the threat.
Central also managed to load the bases in the first inning but couldn't capitalize.
"First inning, [Ackerman] was a little rough," Central coach Kevin McCollum said. "He helped us out a little bit there, but against good pitchers you've got to try to take advantage of that and get one or two there. I don't know if that changes things for tonight or not, but you've got to take advantage of your opportunities. I think it was the bottom of the eighth when we had a guy on third with two outs. Two-out hits win games. If we get a passed ball or something there, it changes the game. We've just got to be more consistent offensively."
Friday marked another impressive outing for Robbins, who through 26 innings this season owns a 1.04 ERA and 58 strikeouts.
"Will's been pretty consistent for us this year," McCollum said. "He gave us a chance to win — probably gave us more than enough chances to win. We've got to find a way to do better offensively. We'll keep working and find a way to try to scratch some runs out."
Central (7-7, 1-3 Region 6-7A) will try to get back in the win column at 5 p.m. Saturday against Denmark, while North (9-7, 2-3 Region 6-7A) has won back-to-back games and will travel to Denmark at 6:15 p.m. Monday.
"We're something special," Triche said. "It took us a few games to get into a groove, but Coach [Kyle] Counts, he always says tough guys win and I believe that's one of our big mottos."