Brant Stark was afraid he might have let North Forsyth’s comeback slip right through his fingers. When the sophomore second baseman got an opportunity to make amends, he made the most of it.
Stark came up with a two-out RBI double just inside the right field line in the bottom of the seventh, and North rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the final two innings to beat Lambert 5-4 on Wednesday at Raider Field.
The Raiders (11-8, 4-3 Region 6-AAAAAA) took a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the sixth on a pair of two-run home runs by Michael Henderson and Tony Papale and had an opportunity to finish off the Longhorns (13-5, 5-2) in the top of the seventh. Ian Kimbrell came to the plate with the bases loaded and hit a hard grounder toward Stark that had the potential for a game-ending double play, but the ball took a bad hop that the infielder wasn’t able to handle and allowed the tying run to score from third.
"I was just excited to get a second chance," Stark said.
"I kind of hurt the team there [in the top of the inning] and it just feels good to help [my teammates] win it."
Said Raiders coach Jim Cahill: "It was a good high school baseball game, probably one of the most intense ones I’ve been around, and we’ve had some good ones here."
The Raiders struggled to generate hits against Lambert starter Dylan Biumi (5 1/3 IP, 4 K, 2 ER, 4 H, 2 BB) most of the game. The junior right-hander retired 14 of the first 16 batters he faced.
The game remained scoreless until the top of the fourth inning, when Brock Maxwell (3-for-3, HR, RBI, 2 RS) led off with a double to deep left off Raiders left-hander Matthew Heard (6 1/3 IP, 4 K, 3 ER, 8 H, 3 BB) and scored on a single by Kimbrell.
Kimbrell later scored on a single by pinch hitter Harrison Lee to give the Longhorns a 2-0 lead.
Maxwell struck again in the fifth with a solo home run to left, and the Longhorns remained ahead 3-0 going into the bottom of the sixth.
But North finally solved Biumi.
After Nick Aiken drew a leadoff walk, Henderson lined a one-out blast over the left field fence to narrow the gap to 3-2. Tyler Welch followed with a single to left, and Lambert replaced Biumi with left-hander Thomas Reddin.
The reliever uncorked two wild pitches that allowed Welch to move to third before delivering a pitch that Papale got hold of for a go-ahead, two-run homer to left-center.
"[Our players] never quit," Cahill said.
"They believe we can win. ... We chased a lot of pitches [early] and came out the second and third time through [the order] a little more patient, strung a few hits together and were able to make some things happen."
Heard retired the first batter he faced in the seventh, then issued two walks and a hit batsman to load the bases for Kimbrell, whose hard shot to Stark tied the game 4-4 and left the bases loaded with only one out.
Junior right-hander Dylan Powers relieved Heard and induced a key infield pop out from Eric Furphy, then struck out Jake Chickowski to end the inning without further damage.
"Dylan came in and showed no fear and threw strikes," Cahill said. "He did a great job."
Pinch hitter Chris Vincent led off in the bottom of the seventh and reached on an error, but his pinch runner, Bailey Maudlin, remained stuck at first with two outs.
Stark then worked the count to 3-2 off reliever Danny Edgeworth before he raked an outside fastball down the right field line, and Mauldin slid across home plate a split-second ahead of the tag from catcher Billy Whitlock.
Stark was engulfed by his teammates in a dogpile as he rounded third base.
"That [second to] last pitch, I got lucky and the umpire didn’t call it a strike, and I stayed back and drove [the next one]," Stark said.
"He was throwing pretty hard, so I was just sitting back and trying to take it [the opposite way]."
The Raiders have won four games in a row and sit in third place in Region 6 at the midpoint in the region schedule. The Longhorns, who were No. 1 in Class 6A in the Score Atlanta rankings coming into the week, have suffered three consecutive losses but remain one game ahead of Raiders for second place.
"These kinds of games are a testament to how tough our region is," Lambert head coach Jamie Corr said.
"After the first half of the [region schedule], we have had four ballgames decided within two runs. We have been very fortunate to come out on top in three of those games. Hats off to North Forsyth for battling all the way to the end and earning a hard-fought victory."