By MacKenzie Bates
For the Forsyth County News
Holton Payne did not know it was coming.
The sophomore designated hitter had just singled the game-winning hit in a 9-8 win for North Forsyth over Lambert on Wednesday night. It was already starting to get cold after the sun set on Coal Mountain an hour before, and Payne got even colder after his teammates celebrated by dousing him in ice water.
“I was just trying to see what his arm slot was,” Payne said of his final at-bat. “(I) watched the first pitch and picked it up. Then I just hammered on the fastball.”
Tied 8-8 heading into the final frame, Justice Bailey drew a leadoff walk for the Raiders. Garrett Staton put him in scoring position before Payne delivered the knockout blow with a single to center field, plating the game’s final score and giving the Raiders their first Region 5-7A win of the young season and boost their record to 7-6, 1-2.
“This was big, to bounce back from two losses (to Milton),” Payne said. “This helps our confidence and motivates us to play well the rest of the season.”
The game felt like a heavyweight fight from the beginning. Lambert (3-11, 1-2) took a 3-0 lead in the first inning when Jonathan Hemings launched a ball over the fence for the first of his two home runs on the night.
The two teams combined for six home runs, five to straightaway center thanks to the wind's direction.
“It’s a rare occasion when the wind blows this way, out to left-center,” Raiders head coach Jim Cahill said. “They got some balls in the air and they went out and we did the same thing. Most of the time it blows straight out to right.”
North chipped away at the Longhorns' lead. Payne, who went 2-for-4, hit a roundtripper of his own in the bottom of the second inning. Mike Hartsfield smacked a two-run shot and Staton’s solo shot put the Raiders ahead 4-3.
Not to be outdone, Hemings hit his second homer and Will Hensley added another in the fourth inning, pushing Lambert back in front 5-4.
Right before the sun went down, the Raiders went ahead 8-5 when Carter Mullikin pulled the ball to left field and out of the park.
The Longhorns were down to their last two outs in the seventh inning, down 8-6 before completing the rally. Back-to-back doubles by Garrett Hollenbeck and Hemings pushed across a run. Two batters later, Parker Brosius’ two-bagger plated Lambert’s game-tying run before Payne’s heroics.
“We woke up and battled,” Lambert head coach Rick Howard said. “Several kids stepped up in those situations and Parker happened to be the one that created the opportunity for us. It’s unfortunate the way the game ended after playing well – that’s a heartbreaker.”
Hemings (five RBIs) and Hensley (two RBIs) each had three hits to lead Lambert. Braden Bamburowski went 2-for-4 at the plate for the Longhorns.
North starter Brody Westbrooks shook off the three-run first inning. He pitched 6 1/3 innings, struck out seven, giving up three runs and eight hits.
“My defense was going to work behind me if I got the ball down and let them hit it to them and not out of the park,” Westbrooks said. “The offense was going to come out and hit the ball. They settled down and I’m so happy that Holton got us the win.”
“They’re tough kids and they never give up,” Cahill said. “To see this young group come out and be tested against a good Lambert team, it’s a good sign for us.”
Hartsfield, Staton, Payne, Kaiden Ellis and Mullikin all had two hits in the win. The two teams play again on Friday at Lambert.