Michael Henderson’s North Forsyth teammates kept the game going long enough for him to finish what he started an inning earlier.
The Raiders trailed 4-2 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and were down to their final strike on more than one occasion, teetering on the verge of falling to 0-3 in region play at the hands of a Centennial squad that had not won a game all season. Instead, three batters reached base with two outs and Henderson capped a five-run inning with a three-run home run to give the Raiders a 7-4 win over the Knights on a cold, snowy Monday afternoon at Raider Field.
"I was hoping to be in that situation and just glad to come through," Henderson said.
"We were struggling a little bit at the beginning of the game, but we finally pulled it together at the end and did what we know we can do."
North’s prospects for a comeback didn’t look good. The Raiders (6-6, 1-2 Region 6-AAAAAA) managed only one run in their first two region contests — a 1-0 loss against Chattahoochee and a 3-1 defeat against Alpharetta — and were down 4-1 against the Knights (0-11, 0-3) going into the bottom of the sixth.
Henderson (2-for-4, 4 RBIs) came through for his squad three times from that point on.
The senior first baseman cut the deficit to 4-2 with an RBI single that scored Tyler Welch (2-for-4) in the sixth. Henderson moved to the mound in the top of the seventh, becoming North’s fourth pitcher of the night, and tossed an inning of scoreless relief to keep the Raiders within reach going into their final turn at the plate.
Griffin Caracciolo (2-for-3) brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the frame with a one-out single to right field, but Centennial pitcher Jake Young (6 2/3 IP, 3 K, 7 R, 9 H), got freshman Zac Slaton to line out to center field and found two quick strikes against Nick Aiken (2-for-4, RBI).
Aiken kept the inning going with a bloop double to right field that scored Caracciolo, and Harris Roberts followed with a walk. Young again found himself one strike away from getting out of the jam against Welch, but the Raiders’ right fielder lined a double several feet over Centennial shortstop Turner Watkins to tie the game and bring Henderson to the plate.
Henderson, North’s cleanup hitter, launched a high fly ball that didn’t stop carrying until it cleared the right field fence.
"That could have been a season-saver right there," North head coach Jim Cahill said. "Michael, he came through in the clutch when we needed him, and people like Michael that work real hard, good things happen [for them]. He got the win on the mound and ... the game-winning home run."
North trailed all the way up to the seventh after committing three errors that helped Centennial score two runs off starting pitcher Matthew Heard (4 IP, 9 K, 3 R, 6 H, 2 BB) in the first inning.
The Raiders got one of those runs back in the third when Slaton delivered a two-out bloop double to right field and scored on a single to left by Aiken.
Centennial tacked on runs in the fourth and sixth with the help of a leadoff double by Watkins both times. Watkins scored on an RBI single by Zach Davis in the fourth and crossed the plate in the sixth on a run-scoring base hit by Jason Willoughby.
Though the game was played just days before local schools will begin their spring break, it had all the makings of a winter classic. Temperatures dipped low enough for a steady snowfall to pelt the field much of the game, but the Raiders weren’t complaining about playing conditions after stealing a victory from the Knights.
"It was a good night," Cahill said. "Conditions weren’t the greatest, but I guess everybody [in the area] is playing in the same conditions tonight."
North is scheduled to host Johns Creek on Wednesday ahead of a county rivalry meeting with South Forsyth at War Eagle Field on Friday. Both games are set to begin at 5:55 p.m.