North Forsyth has half a dozen seniors on its softball team, but it was the swing of a sophomore that broke a scoreless tie Thursday and helped the Raiders to an 11-1 win over Lambert.
Abby Castleberry blasted a solo home run to left-center field in the bottom of the second inning, the first home run of her varsity career.
"It was really exciting," Castleberry said. "I was really happy to contribute to the team, especially in a big game like this that we all wanted to win really bad. I'm just glad I could help."
Castleberry's milestone gave North its first run of the game, and Hailey Mize's three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning served as the game's final runs and enacted the 10-run mercy rule.
A 1-0 game heading into the bottom of the fourth inning, North scored at least three runs in each of the final three innings to break the game open.
"I don't really think they're 10 runs better than us," Lambert head coach Brooks Youngblood said. "We beat them once and they beat us pretty good the other two times. They're the type of team that just capitalizes and puts a ton of pressure on you. It's what happened in both of those losses to them. Credit to them for being able to do that."
Adaline Nix singled to lead off the bottom of the fourth, then swiped second base. Lambert pitcher Hannah Cole hit McKayla Cothran and Hailey Mize consecutively to load the bases. A pair of passed balls allowed Nix and Cothran to score, then an errant throw down the left-field line let Mize score from third base.
Mize had a two-run single in the fifth before ending the game with a towering three-run shot to center field. In all, Mize finished 2 for 3 with five RBIs and two runs scored.
"We didn't play real well yesterday, and I think it was kind of an eye-opener for the girls," North head coach Jim Cahill said. "It took us a while. They did a good job, but our girls made some adjustments the third time through and were able to capitalize on some stuff."
Olivia Tyson earned the win for the Raiders, scattering two hits across six innings, striking out six batters and walking five, and giving up one unearned run.
Tyson walked the bases loaded in the first inning, then allowed the bases to fill up again in the second inning, but each time she buckled down and made the pitch she needed to end the threat.
"She settled in pretty well and threw a lot of strikes, and we made some plays behind her," Cahill said. "Lambert put together some good at-bats so they challenged her, but she stepped up."
Tyson allowed just one runner past second base the rest of the game, which was opposing pitcher Hannah Cole, who had a leadoff walk in the sixth inning, then scored on an error.
"They obviously have a potent lineup, and when they had opportunities they cashed in on them, and we didn't," Youngblood said. "We had their girl on the ropes a couple times, too. We could have knocked her out of the game with a big hit here and a big hit there. It would have been a different ballgame."
Cole pitched well through the first three frames, surrendering only one hit — Castleberry's home run. Cole made an impressive play in the fourth inning, when a comebacker knocked off her glove, and the freshman kept her composure, tracked down the ball and threw it to second base to end the inning.
"She's been getting better every game," Youngblood said. "She's got a lot of talent and I thought she pitched well."
Lambert (14-12, 12-4 Region 6-7A) lost nine seniors a year ago, including seven starters. Yet, the Longhorns came into Thursday's game jockeying for a potential No. 2 seed in the region tournament.
Lambert has just one senior — Collen Thorson — and is powered by a promising core of underclassmen, but Youngblood isn't surprised at how well the Longhorns have played this season.
"I wouldn't say surprised. I mean, these girls have really come together well and gelled well, and they have great team chemistry and play hard," Youngblood said. "I'm pleased with the way that's happened as fast as it has, because they're so young. I think that's been a big reason why we've had so much success. I'm proud of them and I'm glad we had those opportunities. I think we'll only get better if we stay moving in that same direction and we don't change."
North Forsyth (17-9, 12-3 Region 6-7A) has won eight of its past nine games and hasn't dropped a region game since falling to Lambert more than a month ago.
Castleberry, who served as the Raiders' designated player on Thursday, has flourished during that time. She drove in four runs in her first three games of the season and is batting .490 (26 for 52) with 15 RBIs this year.
"I tried to take the opportunities and kind of relax in them, because I knew that if I was nervous, I wouldn't be able to contribute as well," she said. "So, I just tried to take every opportunity I had and make something out of it."
Clad with pom-poms and sporting encouraging sings from the dugout, Castleberry has felt welcomed by North's players despite this being her first true year on varsity.
"It's amazing. I feel like we have a rowdy dugout, so I feel like that kind of feeds into the people that are on the field and the fans too," Castleberry said. "It's just really exciting, and it helps with team bonding too. It definitely helps the team be more comfortable with each other.
"This is a really great team to be on. I know some teams are usually not as successful as us, and it's just good to be able to come to a good team as a young player, to be able to contribute with everyone else."