Four days ago, we were basking in self-adulation. All five Forsyth County public school high school baseball teams had made the state playoffs. They were marching into the postseason together, and, it seemed, they’d be coming out with the state’s respect.
Today, all that’s left is Forsyth Central, the only county team to survive the first round. All four of Forsyth’s Region 6-AAAAAA playoff representatives – Lambert, North Forsyth, South Forsyth and West Forsyth – were cast aside by Region 5.
Before the playoffs, West Forsyth head coach Mike Pruitt told me: “Depending on how we all come out of this mess, I think that’ll speak volumes about where we are.”
So, what are we to say now?
Tough luck. That’s all.
To say Region 6’s playoff exodus is an indictment on the programs would be hyperbole. For sure, it was a disappointment, for who would have reasonably projected all four teams to lose in the first round?
Well, MaxPreps might have. According to the website’s state rankings, all four Forsyth Region 6 teams were ranked lower in Class AAAAAA than their Region 5 opponents: South was No. 31, Walton was No. 1; North was No. 23, Pope was No. 5; West Forsyth was No. 14, Etowah was No. 8; Lambert was No. 6, Milton was No. 3. Rankings never guarantee anything, of course, but they can give us a baseline of expectation.
They also underscore how daunting Forsyth’s challenge really was. Region 5 teams made up four of the top 10 ranked teams in Class AAAAAA. They were teams with championship pedigrees – Pope has won state titles in 2009 and 2013; Milton in 1955, 2004 and 2013; and Walton in 1992 and 2007. One way to look at the strength of Region 5 was to note that three teams with six combined state championships didn’t make the playoffs (Lassiter, Roswell, Wheeler).
So this wasn’t a disastrous collapse by Forsyth baseball. It had to contend with talent-rich teams from a part of the state that’s long cultivated expectations for playoff baseball in the state’s highest classification.
Where West started North Georgia signee Derrick Pickvet in Game 1, Etowah started Mercer signee Taylor Lobus.
North starting pitcher and Georgia College signee Matthew Heard threw eight innings of two-run baseball against Pope – but so did Greyhounds starter and West Virginia signee Braden Zarbnisky.
South started senior and Rollins College signee Anthony Trovato in Game 1. Walton countered with junior and University of Georgia commitment Zac Kristofak.
And yet the difference between the two regions wasn’t as stark as Forsyth’s 1-8 record might indicate.
North lost to Pope on a 10th-inning walk-off home run in Game 1 and a three-run seventh after six scoreless innings in Game 2. South led Walton 3-2 in Game 1. Lambert was six outs away from eliminating Milton until a four-run sixth undid the Longhorns in Game 3.
“I don’t think caliber-wise there’s much difference in the level of play between Region 5 and Region 6,” North head coach Jim Cahill said before the playoffs. “I just think traditionally we’re relatively new.”
An opportunity arose for Forsyth County baseball, and, save for Central, it missed. But it won’t be the last. Baseball’s hold in Forsyth is firm. The talent is becoming ever more plentiful, the coaching is too good.
Forsyth County’s cycle in the spotlight could be just beginning.
Brian Paglia is sports editor of the Forsyth County News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 770-205-8976 or follow him on Twitter @BrianPaglia.