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Softball: Raiders edge War Eagles in latest edition of rivalry
North Forsyth graphic 08-10-22

The intensity of the North Forsyth-South Forsyth softball rivalry makes any meeting feel like a postseason matchup.

In recent times, the Raiders and War Eagles have often faced off with the Region 6-7A title race as a backdrop. With North Forsyth dropping down to Class 6A this season, that added layer of significance was missing from the teams’ Wednesday evening clash at South Forsyth.

However, the non-region game — which actually represented the Raiders’ season opener — still oozed with drama, as North Forsyth came back late before holding off a South Forsyth rally in a 4-3 victory.

“It’s a good test,” Raiders head coach Jim Cahill said. “We’re trying to play all of the county schools, even though we’re not in the region anymore.

“They’re a great program. We know they’re always well coached and prepared. We know it’s going to be a good game.”

Referring to Wednesday’s nail-biter as a “good game” doesn’t do it justice.

The War Eagles (2-1) came into the meeting with plenty of confidence off a perfect start last Saturday, when South Forsyth beat Hebron Christian and reigning 7A champion North Gwinnett by a combined margin of 15-2.

South Forsyth kept the good times rolling in the bottom of the first inning Wednesday. Five consecutive hits in the frame, including RBI singles by Sarah Quian and Kennedy Ariail, plated two runs.

But the Raiders caught a runner trying to steal second base during the stretch, allowing them to escape further damage.

Following that shaky opening, North Forsyth pitcher Lexie Durban settled in. The junior allowed just two hits from the second through fifth innings, giving her team time to finally cash in on their many scoring chances.

After stranding two runners in each of their first four turns at bat, the Raiders finally broke through during the fifth inning.

Taylor Pipkins led off with a single, stole second base and scored on a double by catcher Abby Castleberry. Mary Grace Holden entered as a courtesy runner for Castleberry, and the junior eventually scored on an error to tie the game at 2-apiece.

“We talked about carrying that energy from Saturday into today and moving forward into the rest of the season,” War Eagles head coach Leanne Brooks said. “Unfortunately, one of the things we talk about a lot to win a ballgame is that you have to minimize your walks and your errors. We just kind of lost it there after the first few innings. When you don’t value the ball, it’s hard to win.”

In the sixth inning, Durban helped her cause by blasting a two-out, solo home run to right field for a 3-2 lead. She then worked around consecutive two-out singles in the home half of the frame.

North Forsyth gave itself needed breathing space in the seventh, when Alexis Monroe and Trinity Bearden each doubled to center field. The insurance allowed the Raiders to survive a wild bottom of the seventh.

“Glad we added on that extra one,” Cahill said. “That was huge.”

With one out, leadoff hitter Ansley Chiang lofted a fly ball into the right-field corner. Ryleigh Sexton couldn’t quite track it down, and in her pursuit, the senior fell, injuring her non-throwing arm. Chiang, meanwhile, flew around the bases and completed her inside-the-park home run without a throw to the plate.

Charlotte Brooks singled and Emme Souter reached on an error to put the tying run in scoring position for the heart of the War Eagles batting order.

Durban, though, coaxed a fielder’s choice grounder to her shortstop Pipkins, who got the lead runner at third base. Ariail followed with a bullet to right field that went straight to Emma Wheeler, who had replaced Sexton, and the junior squeezed it for the final out.

Cahill, who has coached in many of the now 54 all-time meetings between the programs, wasn’t surprised by the craziness of the final half-inning.

“It’s been the best rivalry in Forsyth County sports for the past 25 years,” he said. “It’s always a tight game just like this. We knew in that last inning that something weird was going to happen. It always does.”

Durban did her best pitch-to-contact display, finishing with one strikeout and no walks.

“She started hitting her spots better,” Cahill said of what changed for Durban after the first inning. “Our defense played great behind her. I don’t think she walked anybody. If she throws strikes and we play defense, we’re going to be tough to beat.”

As someone who played in the rivalry as a student at South Forsyth, Leanne Brooks understand better than most how much focus is placed on these matchups. Even when the game is played just for bragging rights, it feels bigger than almost any other date on the schedule.

“The intensity will forever and always still be there,” said Brooks, a 2010 graduate of SFHS. “We always love playing North Forsyth, because we know it’s always going to be a good, competitive game.”

Having come up on the short end of such an important game, Brooks will hope a narrow loss to an extremely talented rival doesn’t undo all of the positive momentum that the season-opening sweep created.

“Once you make a mistake, you either have to learn from it or you stay with it,” Brooks said. “As a team, how are we going to get better? Are we going to take the mistakes and learn from them to help ourselves out? Or are we just going to stay and plateau?”