Garrett Staton couldn’t have ended his career at North Forsyth in a better way.
Facing a full count in the bottom of the sixth inning of an 8-0 game, Staton pulled a pitch over the left field wall for a solo home run, his second of the year.
He didn’t know it at the time, but it was the final at-bat of his high school career.
A few minutes later, Noah Gilbert pitched a scoreless seventh inning, working around a one-out single to strike out the final two Walnut Grove batters.
The Georgia High School Association (GHSA) decided the following day to close for two weeks, with Forsyth County Schools announcing later that day its intention to close for two weeks.
Then, three weeks later, the GHSA canceled the rest of the spring season, ending North Forsyth’s year just as it was beginning.
It also ended the high school careers of eight North Forsyth seniors, including Staton, Garrett Sagro, Bennett Helms, Miles Hartsfield, Sammy Gore, Anthony DiMola, Ty Morrison and Noah Gilbert.
Staton and Hartsfield started all four years for the Raiders.
“We’ve been waiting for them for four years,” North Forsyth head coach Jim Cahill said. “They’ve started since their freshman year, then Anthony was on varsity since his sophomore year. Especially with the positions they play, we were expecting big things. I just feel bad for them. The juniors get to come back and play next year, but the senior class is just feeling the brunt of the whole thing.”
The Raiders had won four out of five games, including three shutout victories.
Sophomore Brett Barfield struck out 10 batters across six shutout innings Feb. 27 during a 3-0 win against Habersham Central, then freshman Kyle Roper pitched a hitless seventh inning for the save.
One day later, DiMola whiffed 11 batters and gave up just two hits in a 6-0 win against North Hall, as freshman Casen Engert tallied two strikeouts in a scoreless seventh inning.
Then, in the 9-0 win against Walnut Grove, it was Jess Ackerman’s turn. North Forsyth’s junior lefty tossed five innings of one-hit ball, striking out nine batters, then Gilbert shut the door with four strikeouts over the final two innings.
“It was definitely a special group of kids. They’re great kids and they work hard,” Cahill said. “Ty Morrison, we were expecting great things from him this season. He started to get hot right when the season was canceled. Same with Sammy Gore, Noah Gilbert, Garrett Sagro — they were all getting geared up for that first region game. We had a lot of momentum going into that game, and a lot of it was thanks to those guys.”
DiMola gave up just one earned run all season (21 1/3 innings), good for a 0.32 ERA. He also led the team with 30 strikeouts.
DiMola, the reigning Forsyth County News Pitcher of the Year, signed to play baseball at Georgia Southern, though it’s possible he could be selected in the 2020 MLB draft. Staton, who hit .354 last year and signed to play at Samford, could also hear his name called.
But with the Major League Baseball season still postponed, the format of the draft has yet to be determined.
“That’s even something that’s up in the air, is what’s going to happen with the Major League draft,” Cahill said. “There are still question marks out there whether it’ll be abbreviated. If that’s the case, there may be some high school seniors that get overlooked or bypassed this year. It all depends on what MLB does.”
Staton was among the Raiders’ offensive leaders this season, finishing with a .400 batting average and seven RBIs.
Sophomore Tyler Triche led the team in batting average (.412) and doubles (4).
“We knew he was pretty solid, but he came out on fire,” Cahill said. “He was hitting in the middle of the lineup and he was doing a great job playing second base.”
Morrison (.333), sophomore Kaiden Ellis (.324) and freshman Logan Curry (.316) also enjoyed quick starts to the season, with Ellis leading the team with eight RBis.
North Forsyth’s pitching staff finished with a 1.48 ERA, which was anchored by the Raiders’ three main starters — DiMola, Ackerman and Barfield — who had a combined 1.04 ERA.
Ackerman led the team with three wins and struck out 27 batters in 13 1/3 innings.
DiMola, Gilbert and Staton each said their favorite memory while playing for North Forsyth is when the Raiders swept second-seeded Archer out of the Class 7A playoffs last year.
North Forsyth beat Archer 4-1 in 10 innings in the first game of the doubleheader, then outlasted the Tigers 2-1 in eight innings, as the series win carried the Raiders into the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2016.