Landon Sims threw one of the best games of his already illustrious baseball career on Tuesday. He struck out nine batters in 6 2/3 innings, and the opposing hitters from North Forsyth truly squared up just one pitch.
But in the immediate aftermath of South Forsyth's 5-1 win, that pitch was still stuck in Sims' mind.
"Good, but pretty crappy," Sims said when asked how he felt after the game. "Obviously, it sucks. But we won, and that's all that matters."
Sims, a junior right-hander committed to play at Mississippi State, started his outing with a laborious first inning. At one point, with help from two South errors, the Raiders had the bases loaded.
But Sims escaped that jam, and North could scarcely touch him for the rest of his outing. He didn't fully get hold of his breaking ball until the fourth inning, but his fastball had too much zip and life for the Raiders to do much with it. From the second to sixth innings, Sims allowed just one baserunner, walking Caleb Vercek in the third inning.
South did enough against North (11-2, 0-1 Region 5-7A) starter Tyler Fairchild to give Sims a cushion. Sims delivered the War Eagles' first runs himself, doubling to left field in the first to score Payton Rawlins and Ryan Finnegan. Grant Gerberding and Drew Becker had RBI singles in the fourth, and Ryan Finnegan scored on a wild pitch in the fifth.
Heading into the top of the seventh, Sims had thrown 82 pitches. He had allowed zero hits.
Sims walked Colin Sanders to open the seventh, but then got Carter Mullikin to hit an awkward looper to second, where Becker fielded it and flipped to Gerberding, the shortstop, who got the throw to first in time. Sims quickly got an 0-2 count on Evan Johnson. He was a strike away from the first no-hitter of his career, and he hadn't come that close before, either.
Johnson fouled off a fastball, and Sims missed low with another one. The next pitch was another fastball, up in the zone. It was a good pitch, Sims said after the game.
But Johnson was ready. He smashed the ball out to center field, and halfway down the first-base line, he was already jogging. The center-field fence at South's field is too tall for the vast majority of players to jump over, but War Eagles center fielder Bradley Prince Jr. tried anyways. The ball sailed over.
Landon Sims gets a strike away from a no-hitter, but Evan Johnson breaks it up by socking a home run to center. 5-1 now, two outs T7. Peyton Presley on the mound for South now. pic.twitter.com/5mgY2Xr6V0— Ian Frazer (@ianmcfrazer) March 13, 2018
Sims took off his glove and put his hands on his hips. When catcher Matty Bapst gave Sims another ball, he grabbed it with his bare hand. Sims had thrown 96 pitches at that point, and South head coach Russ Bayer came to the mound to take him out and let Peyton Presley finish the game.
"It's just part of baseball," said Bayer. "That's all there is to it. I wanted it for Landon, and I wanted it for the boys, but that's just part of the game."
Even while his disappointment was raw, Sims recognized the most important takeaway from the game: that South won, giving the War Eagles (8-4, 1-0) a strong start to what could be a brutal region slate. It was enough to make him feel better, even if he couldn't completely forget.
"It still sucks," Sims said. "It really sucks. But yeah, I'll get another chance to do it again, hopefully."