As North Forsyth’s softball team watched a no-doubt Bailey McCachren home run sail over the left field fence, they also saw their once comfortable lead disappear in an instant.
That game-tying hit came during North’s biggest matchup of the season to that point, against a second place Forsyth Central team looking for redemption from a sloppy performance in the two teams’ last meeting. For many teams, that kind of play could easily be deflating, but for the Raiders, winners of 13 straight, their confidence in themselves and each other was never in doubt.
“I still knew we had the game,” Adaline Nix said. “I knew we would have each other's back and we would get our energy back up.”
The game eventually entered an extra eighth frame, when Nix hit a two-out grounder to shortstop and just beat the throw to first to score Maggie McBrayer from third, giving the Raiders their lead back.
“On the bounce when I hit it, I just had confidence that I was going to be there to score that run,” Nix said. “I had my teammates pumping me up. I knew we had the game when I did that.”
Indeed, that run was more than enough for North to work with in the bottom half, with starting pitcher Kyleigh Sanders sitting down three straight Bulldogs to complete the critical 4-3 win on Tuesday. With the victory, North (24-2, 8-1 Region 5-7A) clinched the No. 1 seed in next week’s region tournament.
“Our girls never quit,” North head coach Jim Cahill said. “They know they've got a chance to win every game with the way they swing the bat. It was a well-played game by both teams tonight.”
Both pitchers were solid, with Sanders finishing her night having allowed four hits with 11 strikeouts, while McCachren gave up just three earned runs with three punchouts. North scored the game’s first run in the third, with McKayla Cothran hitting a single up the middle that scored Lauren Fields. With runners on and just one out, the Raiders threatened to add more, but Central right fielder Mattie Smith caught a Mallorie Black flyout for the second out and cut down Ashleigh Grace at the plate to limit the damage.
The Raiders continued to flex their offensive muscle in the next inning, though, increasing their lead to 3-0 when Ansley Anderson singled to right to score two more.
“They're very talented but they're also great teammates,” Cahill said. “They cheer each other on and everybody has a role and a responsibility. They've embraced that and they're doing a fantastic job. Sometimes (it's) more important that teams play together.”
Heading into the fourth, Central (10-14, 6-3) had not been able to get a hit off of Sanders, but soon earned their best scoring opportunity of the game when Ansley Clark and Sydney Moroney reached on an error and a single, respectively. McCachren made sure the Bulldogs took advantage with her ensuing opposite field three-run shot to left.
“I've got two artificial knees but I still got off the ground when I saw the ball leave the park,” Central head coach Paul Cromie said. “Their pitcher was throwing a tremendous game. She had a great riseball working, so you've either got to move up in the box and get it before it goes or you stay back, or see it a little longer and take the ball. If the stays on top, (McCachren) has such great power to the opposite field.”
Ultimately, though, the Raiders took the win, coincidentally by the same score as their last game against the Bulldogs. Unlike that game, Cromie was satisfied with what his team did despite the loss.
“This 4-3 loss to me feels a whole heck of a lot better than the first 4-3 loss,” he said. “It was an emotional night for them because it was senior night, but they played their hearts out. (We) made the plays when we had to ... This was not a game that was given to the other team.”
For North, homefield advantage throughout the tournament is set. The only thing left to do is take advantage of it.
“If we keep playing like we played tonight with everybody having each other's back, we could go really far,” Nix said.