North Forsyth came through at the plate when it mattered most — with a little help from Mother Nature.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, Harris Roberts hit a towering fly ball to shallow right field. Forsyth Central’s first baseman, second baseman and right fielder all camped under where they thought the ball would end up, but the ball drifted in the wind and fell between all three players, allowing a run to cross the plate and give North a 5-4 victory on Monday at Raider Field.
The Raiders (1-2) were on the wrong end of a one-run game on Thursday in a 2-1 loss to Sequoyah.
"Every game we’ve played in [this season] has been a tight ballgame," North head coach Jim Cahill said. "We just got a clutch hit and kept the pressure on in the last inning and were able to come through with a one-run win, which last year they were hard to come by. So, hopefully, we’ve turned the corner on that."
North entered the final half inning of play trailing 4-3, but a one-out double by Brant Stark (2-for-4) put the tying run in scoring position. Bailey Mauldin was then hit by a pitch, sending Michael Henderson to the plate.
Central relief pitcher Austin Adams (1/3 IP, 1 K, 1 ER, 1 H, 1 HBP, 1 BB) struck out Henderson for the second out of the inning and brought Bulldogs’ fans to their feet. However, Justin Stanley kept the inning alive with a single to left field to load the bases for sophomore Matthew Heard (2-for-2, 2 RBIs), who drew a walk to tie the game at 4-4.
"I kind of liked [the pressure]," Heard said. "It made me feel like I could do something to help the team."
Henderson (3 IP, 3 ER, 3 H, 2 K, 4 BB) started the game on the mound for North before Dylan Powers and Chris Vincent came in for relief, while Tyler Welch (1 IP, 1 K, 0 H, 1 BB) picked up the win.
Nik Verbeke (4 IP, 1 ER, 1 H, 2 K, 3 BB, 1 HBP) went four innings for the Bulldogs until reliever Jeffery Rous took over.
Central (2-2) struck first in the second inning with a run-scoring fielder’s choice off the bat of Nate Short, but the Raiders responded in the bottom half of the frame as Heard reached home off an infield error to tie the game 1-1.
The Bulldogs’ Devon Compton and Dee Kelly both drew walks before Miller Cone and Andrew Gist recorded RBI singles in the third inning. Michael Branigan added to the lead in the fourth with a hotshot single to third base to take a 4-1 advantage.
The Raiders led off the bottom of the inning with a pair of walks and Tony Papale advanced the runners to second and third with a sacrifice bunt to send Heard to the plate. Heard smashed the ball to deep center field, but Branigan made a diving catch and only allowed the runner from third to tag-up and score.
Branigan continued his impressive play in the outfield in the fifth inning when he caught a fly ball and gunned down a runner trying to score from third.
North eventually broke through in the sixth with an RBI single from Vincent to score Henderson, who reached on a fielding error, to make the score 4-3 and loaded the bases with only one out. The Bulldogs’ worked their way out of the jam as Rous forced Zach Slaton to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Central only managed one baserunner in the final three innings of play, while North boasted 12.
Before the game, North inducted former head coach Byron Orr into the school’s baseball hall of fame. Orr won 131 games with the Raiders and helped guide them to a second-place finish in the Class A state playoffs in 1997 and the state championship in 1998.
Orr coached at Central, North and West Forsyth and is the only coach in Forsyth County history to have three state championships and three teams finish as state runner-ups.
"It’s a real big thing when you’ve been coaching a long time," Orr said. "It’s nice to be recognized for all the hard work you’ve put into it. It’s just a big honor for me."
Central was scheduled to play on Tuesday against Centennial before traveling to Gainesville, Fla. on Friday. North will host Chestatee on Friday.