North Forsyth softball head coach Jim Cahill couldn’t help but notice a trend.
In the hours before his team’s first game of the Region 5-7A championship series against South Forsyth on Monday, he saw two games that came down to the final inning of play, with Forsyth Central forcing extras to get a win over West Forsyth and Lambert hitting a walk-off home run against Milton with one out to go.
So when the seventh inning arrived in his team’s game against South, he wasn’t surprised to see the War Eagles put up a similar fight, scoring two runs of their own to cut the North lead to two, with Makenna Segal scoring from third on a wild pitch and Audrey Hui bringing Isabel Hui in with an RBI groundout.
“That's what's great about this tournament -- the atmosphere and all the teams being so equal in ability,” Cahill said. “Anybody can beat anybody.”
But despite South’s late push, the Raiders' offense was more than good enough bolster themselves, with North taking a 4-2 win to take a 1-0 series lead. Both teams will play again on Tuesday, and North will clinch its second straight Region 5-7A title with another victory.
“It was a well-pitched game and a well-played game,” Cahill said.
In the circle, South’s Hannah Marchman and North’s Kyleigh Sanders were dealing early, with neither team able to bring across runs in the game’s first three innings. For North’s high-powered offense, it was a different feeling.
“Marchman did a great job keeping us off-balance,” Cahill said. “Their defense made some great plays behind (her) and they had a good game plan coming in against us.”
But eventually, North’s bats finally began to produce like they have all season. After Abby Martin reached on an error in the bottom of the fourth, Maggie McBrayer broke the tie with a home run to left center, which gave the Raiders their first lead at 2-0.
“I wasn't ever worried,” McBrayer said. “I knew we could do it. All I saw was everybody jumping -- it just made me more pumped.”
In the fifth, North just added to its edge, with McKayla Cothran tripling to left to bring in Ashleigh Grace, and soon after, a deep sacrifice fly from Hailey Mize put the score at 4-0 before South finally scored for the first time in the final inning.
Sanders pushed through the seventh for the complete game win, striking out four. Marchman took the loss, striking out three and walking three over her 4 1/3 frames. Cothran and Grace each had three hits for the Raiders, while Isabel Hui notched three for South. Despite her scored run, Segal was not able to make an impact at the plate, with North intentionally walking her in all four of her plate appearances.
With just one win left to reach one of their season-long goals, the Raiders can feel the excitement building. But before they can celebrate, there’s still one game left to take care of, and if their coach is to be believed, it can go either way.
“I think we're all pumped up and we're really confident,” Grace said. “I know anything can happen, but I think we're pretty confident in each other.”