CARTERSVILLE — With the end of the Region 7-AAAA race so close, South Forsyth didn’t want to slow down ahead of the finish line.
The War Eagles erased a four-run deficit in the final three innings Friday night and went on to defeat Woodland 7-6 at the Wildcats’ field, securing the No. 2 seed in the region and home field advantage in the first round of the state playoffs. If the War Eagles had lost, they would have finished fourth in the region and had to begin the playoffs on the road Friday against No. 2-ranked Loganville.
South (18-8, 14-6 Region 7-AAAA) instead will play host to the No. 3 seed from Region 8-AAAA, either Heritage or Flowery Branch. County rival Lambert, which defeated Sequoyah 10-0 Friday, must instead travel to Loganville. Forsyth Central finishes with the region’s No. 3 seed and will open the postseason at No. 10 Winder-Barrow.
“I told the boys, we’ve worked so hard the last 25 games to get ourselves in the playoffs ... there’s no reason we couldn’t put everything into ... this 26th to give ourselves a chance to play at home in the postseason,” South coach Russ Bayer said. “[Woodland] jumped out [to a big lead] and it hurt, but the thing that I was proudest ... about [our players] is they didn’t lose focus of what we were really shooting for. They never let up.”
Jordan Osteen’s two-run hit capped a six-run fourth inning that allowed Woodland (13-13, 10-10) to take a 6-2 lead.
But Zack McCrum (3-for-4, HR, 3 RBI) launched a two-run homer to right-center field to pull South within two runs in the fifth, and a sixth inning prolonged by an error allowed the War Eagles to reclaim the lead.
With two outs, South’s Jesse Gonzalez hit a ball to the shortstop. The ensuing throw sailed over the first baseman’s head and Gonzalez wound up on second base.
Devin Gearhart (2-for-3, 2B, RBI) drove in Gonzalez with an RBI double, and Micah Dunn delivered another run-scoring hit to tie the game. A miscommunication in the the Wildcats’ outfield then allowed a fly ball off the bat of McCrum to fall into left to put South on top 7-6, as two Woodland players dived unsuccessfully for the ball.
McCrum, who relieved Dunn in the fourth, recorded four straight outs before surrendering a one-out, bloop single to Braden Harris in the bottom of the seventh. Camden McGill advanced Harris to second with a grounder to first and Hunter Siniard walked to put the potential game-winning run on base, but McCrum ended the game with his fourth strikeout of the night, guaranteeing South at least one playoff series at home.
McCrum earned the win after throwing four innings, allowing three hits and one walk with no earned runs.
“The last time that we had a chance to be at home in the state playoffs, we had an opportunity to play for a state championship and the boys, they’re not lost to that,” Bayer said.
“They know that the opportunity is there, and the best way to do it is when you’re at home and you got your own fans behind you. We’re fortunate in the fact that we have a bit of a unique ballpark.
“The fans are on top of the people, it’s a short porch, there’s not a lot of foul territory. It’s a very big advantage.”