The South Forsyth baseball team insists it is still early in Region 5-7A play, and so they declare that its undefeated start, which continued Wednesday with an 8-5 victory at Forsyth Central, is not yet some harbinger of regular season achievement or the end of a brief postseason drought.
Indeed, the War Eagles displayed enough chinks Wednesday to temper their own optimism. Despite an 8-0 lead through the top of the fourth inning, Central (4-13, 2-3) tacked on runs in the bottom of the fourth and fifth then brought the game-winning run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh. The Bulldogs out-hit South, 13-5, and the War Eagles committed two errors. They were, despite what their region record says, far from perfect.
“We held on,” South head coach Russ Bayer said, “and that’s the most important thing.”
That is what the War Eagles were unable to do last season. After a promising start, South was 5-4 in region play going into spring break and in good position to qualify for the state playoffs after missing out the year before. After spring break, the War Eagles collapsed. They lost five straight and finished 6-9 to miss the state playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Out of that heartache has come a newfound perspective.
“We’re not focused on the future,” South starting pitcher Keller Dannenmiller said. “We’re focused on the next game.”
It’s working. South is 12-4 overall, 5-0 in region and thriving with strong pitching and a potent offense.
South’s offense showed its potential in the top of the fourth inning. Already ahead 2-0, the War Eagles took advantage of three walks by Central starter Mitchell Gross. Matty Bapst walked to lead off the inning, and Landon Sims followed with a two-run homer to centerfield. Ryan Finegan laced a two-run double to the right field corner. Cooper Davidson drove in two more with a slicing single to right. By the end, Central had made two pitching changes and South led 8-0.
That helped put Dannenmiller even more at ease than he already was despite being in an unfamiliar role. Wednesday was his first start since sophomore year on the junior varsity team. The right hander logged pitches with a clipboard in the dugout last season instead of throwing them on the mound, but a second year of growth to 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds has earned the senior the nickname “Creature” with teammates. He scattered eight hits and a walk while striking out six in five innings to earn the win.
“I was already relaxed,” Dannenmiller said, “but once that (big inning) happened it just relaxed me even more. Then I just went out there and had some fun and threw strikes.”
The fun, though, must be short-lived. South’s new perspective demands it must be so.
There is another game to play Friday, after all, at West Forsyth, and nine more in the region after that.
“We’re a third of the way done with the region,” Bayer said. “A lot can happen.”