Tyler Welch had waited for this game all week. When it finally arrived, North Forsyth’s senior right-hander delivered.
Welch scattered four hits over 5 2/3 innings and didn’t give up a run until the sixth inning, as North edged South Forsyth 4-3 in a wild finish on Friday at Raider Field.
"I came out ready to play," Welch said. "I wanted to beat South. We definitely wanted this win — all of us. I mean, this is a rivalry game. We wanted to beat them.
"I had a lot of adrenaline going into each inning. [I] just knew that we needed this win, especially for our [region] record."
South trailed 4-2 with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the seventh inning when Michael Strait hit a grounder to the second baseman. The infielder tossed the ball to the shortstop for a force out that allowed Zack Baus to score from third, but Anthony Trovato rounded third and continued toward home until he was caught in a run-down and tagged by Harris Roberts to end the game.
"We have to eliminate all the mental mistakes that we’re making," South head coach Russ Bayer said. "Physically, we’re a better ball club than we’ve shown all season, but we keep making a lot of the same repeated mistakes and it chronically catches up to us and so we adjust. Unfortunately, things may not change."
The Raiders (7-7, 2-3 Region 6-AAAAAA) loaded the bases in the first inning, but South pitcher Logan Cole (1 1/3 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 1 K, 3 BB, 1 HBP) got out of the jam without allowing a run. Cole couldn’t do the same in the second inning, as Cory Campbell doubled to left field and Zac Slaton singled and moved to second on the throw home to put runners in scoring position for Nick Aiken. Aiken drew a walk before Brant Stark hit a double to deep left field to score Campbell and Slaton to make the score 2-0.
North added to its lead in the fourth inning, as an error by the left fielder allowed Stark to reach first. Stark stole second and advanced to third on a groundout before Tony Papale perfectly executed a squeeze bunt for Stark to score. Papale moved to second on a wild pitch, took third on a fielding error and scored after Griffin Caracciolo singled to right field to cushion the lead at 4-0.
"We hit the ball as well as we hit it all year long," North head coach Jim Cahill said. "We played defense and pitched well. … Any time we play South, it’s going to be a close game.
"We don’t go about our preparation or anything like that any differently, but they know all those kids. ... I think they want to have bragging rights and all that stuff. Having the county schools all together again, or most of them, it makes the rivalry that [much] more intense."
Welch (5 2/3 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 7 K, 3 BB, 2 HBP) dominated on the mound and didn’t allow a South (6-9, 1-4) baserunner to pass second base until the sixth inning when Zack McCrum doubled to left-center field to start the rally. Nate Schmal walked before Welch struck out Chase Farley for the second out. Sam Walker closed the gap with a two-run double to left field to score McCrum and Schmal and bring the score to 4-2, prompting Cahill to bring in reliever Devin Barron. Barron quelled the momentum with a groundout to end the threat.
"Tyler did excellent," Cahill said. "He’s done well his last three or four times out. He’s been throwing a lot of strikes. … He had command of all of his pitches tonight and he was pretty effective. His velocity was probably the highest it’s been."
Barron hit two batters in a row to start the seventh inning before settling down and forcing a pop up. McCrum loaded the bases when he reached on an error by the second baseman, but North got out of the jam on Strait’s groundout and run-down at home.
North will travel to Florida during spring break to play West Florida High School on Tuesday before returning to Cumming to play at West Forsyth on April 8. South will host Graves County High School (Kentucky) on Wednesday at 5:55 p.m.