South Forsyth clawed its way out of an early hole, while No. 1-ranked Lambert fizzled after a fast start. It’s a narrative that simultaneously characterizes the way the 2013 season has gone for the two teams and describes their most recent meeting.
South rallied from a 3-0 deficit with the help of a three-run home run by Zack McCrum, who also picked up the win on the mound, and finished off a 5-4 victory over Lambert in 11 innings on Monday at War Eagle Field.
The War Eagles (11-10, 5-4 Region 6-AAAAAA) have won five games in a row after failing to win even two consecutive games this season prior to the month of April. Lambert (14-6, 6-3) has fallen almost as fast as South has risen, suffering losses in four of its last five games after a 5-0 start to the region schedule.
"I’m just very proud of the boys," South head coach Russ Bayer said. "Two or three weeks ago ... we were in the bit of a rough stint, making a lot of defensive errors, not coming through, handing ballgames away early. One of the things we pushed on them was really reading the flow of the game and changing and taking control of the tempo."
McCrum changed the tempo in the bottom of the fifth when he lifted a long fly ball to deep field off Longhorns starting pitcher Joe Vonderschmidt with two runners on and Lambert leading 4-1. Longhorns left fielder Jeremy Johnson scaled the fence and tried to rob McCrum of a home run, but the ball grazed off the end of his glove and over the wall to tie the game 4-4.
South’s defense took over from there with several impressive plays that helped produce nine innings of scoreless relief from pitchers Logan Cole, Michael Strait and McCrum.
Left fielder Sam Brady made a spectacular diving catch to rob Danny Edgeworth of an RBI double in the seventh, and C.J. Kream ended the inning when he hauled in a deep fly ball from Ian Kimbrell against the wall in right-center field.
The Longhorns threatened again in the eighth with runners at the corners and one out, but came up empty once more. Tucker Maxwell was unable to execute a squeeze bunt, and South catcher Nate Smith tagged out Eric Furphy near third base after a short rundown.
"One thing we have pushed on ... is just getting dirty, knowing how to knock a ball down, block a ball or lay out for a play to save a run," Bayer said. "I don’t know if [earlier in the season], out of respect, the boys were afraid to get the uniforms dirty or not, [but] eventually we started getting comfortable in our own skin laying out [to make plays].
"Sam Brady made an amazing catch out there in left, possibly changed the ball game, possibly won us the ball game. We had the same thing on their squeeze attempt — we ran the rundown the way we wanted to and [did] just a great job all around."
The War Eagles put a runner in scoring position in the seventh, eighth and 10th, but Edgeworth — the third of six pitchers used by Lambert — dodged trouble each time. South was finally able to complete its comeback after Lambert reliever Brock Maxwell gave up a leadoff single to Nate Smith in the 11th, then hit McCrum and Strait to load the bases with nobody out.
Maxwell, a South Carolina signee, was the Longhorns’ top starting pitcher in 2012. He suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder early this season while trying to make a diving catch in the outfield and has been kept off the mound most of the season.
Lambert head coach Jamie Corr declined to comment on whether this was Maxwell’s first pitching appearance since his injury.
With the bases load and no one out, Corr pulled Maxwell for reliever Thomas Reddin and brought the infield in.
The Longhorns almost got what they needed when Sam Walker hit a soft grounder toward shortstop Trey Logan, but the infielder was forced to rush the ball and overthrew catcher Billy Whitlock as Smith slid into home plate.
"I had a feeling the entire game that we were going to come back and win it, even when we were down 4-1," Strait said. "I think my teammates felt the same way and it showed [in our execution]."
Lambert jumped out to 3-0 lead in the first inning when Edgeworth launched a towering home run off South starting pitcher Anthony Trovato. South got one of those runs back in the bottom of the frame when Zach Baus led off with a single that resulted in a two-base error by Brock Maxwell, then scored on a ground out by Austyn Jacques.
Lambert scored its only other run in the second on a single by Jeremy Johnson.
For the Longhorns, the game was all too similar to a 5-4 loss against North Forsyth five days earlier. Lambert held a three-run lead in that contest until the Raiders rallied for five runs in the final two innings.
"The last few weeks, we’ve gotten away from being solid down the stretch of a game," Corr said. "No matter if [you are] one ahead or one behind, you have to make routine plays, throw strikes and play good situational offensive baseball. We’ve faltered with that a couple times lately."