By Steven Watkins
For the Forsyth County News
With the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the seventh, the fans out at South Forsyth found themselves in a rare position of being torn between staring at their phones or at the batter that would represent the tying run in one of the two Wednesday night games on which the War Eagles' state playoff hopes hinged.
If they wanted to stay alive in the postseason hunt, the War Eagles would need to pair their own win over North Forsyth with a Milton victory over Lambert.
In the top of the seventh, South pitcher Chris Dougherty had begun his relief effort of starter Landon Sims by throwing five-straight balls, and now lingered dangerously close to helping North complete a comeback.
With a 1-0 count, North batter Miles Hartsfield grounded sharply to South first baseman Tyler Cowan, who fielded cleanly and fired to his covering pitcher for the final out of the game. With a 5-1 victory in the only game they could control, the scoreboard watching commenced. The mood turned more somber as Lambert's eventual 7-2 victory ended South's playoff hopes, but the War Eagles could still take pride in the effort in their seniors' final home game.
“I couldn’t have asked more than what the boys gave me tonight,” South head coach Russ Bayer said.
Despite the Raiders' comeback, South covered their end of the bargain, and then some. For six-and-a-half innings, they played like a team absolutely, dead-set on finishing the season on their own terms.
In the final home game of his senior season, Sims pitched six dominant shutout innings before finally surrendering his third hit and first run of the game in a seventh inning that he ultimately wouldn’t have enough pitches left to finish. He also added 12 strikeouts to five walks, made a pair of spectacular defensive plays, and tacked on a solo homer for good measure.
“There’s nothing in the world I wanted more for that kid to get to finish that start out there,” Bayer said of his senior’s final inning. “He gave me four years of his life, pitching his heart out, and he deserved to finish that ballgame.”
The first of Sims’ pair of defensive gems came with one on in the third inning. A North bunt-attempt popped up over the mound, which Simms caught and alertly fired to second for the double-play. His second came with one on in the sixth, when a perfectly-timed pickoff play resulted in Sims running down the stranded baserunner himself.
“I think we came out here tonight and played with 110% effort out there,” he said. “We wanted to win this game, we needed to win this game, and I was just trying to do my best to give us the best chance to do that.”
South wasted no time offensively, capping off a four-hit first inning with a two-run blast by junior Peyton Rawlins, who finished 2-for-3 with a walk and a game-leading four RBI’s.
“I was just going up there looking fastball and not trying to do too much and just drive a run in,” Rawlins said. “It just turned out better than I hoped for.”
Rawlins added his second RBI with a single in the fifth, while also swiping a bag and adding a couple of timely defensive-gems of his own in centerfield.
With the news of Lambert's win came the feeling of disappointment for South's seniors, as their final home game was in the books and their high school careers wouldn't stretch beyond Thursday.
“It’s really disappointing,” Simms said. “We know we’re a team that should be competing for the playoffs.”
But Sims, and the South seniors with him, can at the very least take pride in the way that they finished.
“I live for those situations – that’s what you live for as a baseball player,” he said. “You can’t ask for a better situation right there. Last outing at South, and it didn’t mean nothing. It meant keeping our hopes alive for the playoffs.”