They say defense wins championships, and if Monday was an indication of things to come, Russ Bayer and his South Forsyth squad might make some noise in the state baseball playoffs.
Right fielder Austyn Jacques gunned down a runner at the plate trying to tag from third to end the top of the fourth inning, and relief pitcher Anthony Trovato caught a popup bunt and threw to second base to double off the lead runner in the fifth, as South earned a crucial 5-1 region win over North Forsyth at War Eagle Field.
South (12-12, 6-6 Region 6-AAAAAA) is now tied with Alpharetta for the fourth and final playoff spot, sitting one game behind Lambert for the third seed and two behind West Forsyth for the second with two games left. The War Eagles finish the region schedule with Chattahoochee and Centennial, teams that have a combined region record of 5-17.
The loss drops North (12-12, 5-7) to sixth place, a game back of South and Alpharetta. The Raiders, who have dropped four straight, need some help, but won’t catch a break in their schedule. They close the regular season against West and Lambert.
"We had two plays today that, I think, one killed their momentum, and I think, the other one kind of killed their confidence," Bayer said.
"… We kind of had a bead on some of their kids that we’ve seen in the past and felt like we had a pretty good idea as to what their sequences were. There were specific pitches that we were looking for in those situations, and for the most part, they kind of stuck with the repetition of the way that they threw and gave us some opportunities to really put that gameplan in action."
The Raiders rattled off three hits in the second inning and scored the game’s first run. Harris Roberts singled up the middle to drive in Tyler Welch (1-for-1, 2B, 2 BB), but they only managed one hit for the rest of the game.
North’s best scoring opportunity came in the fourth inning, but a great defensive play from Jacques and Smith stopped a run from scoring.
Welch led off the inning with a walk and advanced to third on a double from Chris Vincent. Brant Start grounded out to South pitcher Logan Cole (4+ IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 3 BB) before Griffin Caracciolo hit a bases-loaded fly ball to right field, where Jacques immediately caught it and threw on target to Smith at home plate.
"That was a great throw, right on target," Smith said. "It was a cannon. I just tried to block the plate."
The lead didn’t last long, as Nate Schmal crushed his first home run of the season over the right field wall to tie the game in the bottom of the second. Nate Smith (2-for-3, 2B, RBI) led off the next inning with a double down the third base line and crossed the plate after Michael Strait (2-for-3, 2B, RBI) doubled to left field to give South a 2-1 advantage.
The War Eagles’ bats came alive again in the bottom of the fourth after two outs. Zach Baus doubled, moved to third after Jacques singled, and scored on a single to right field from Smith. Vincent (4+ IP, 1 ER, 8 H, 1 HBP), North's starting pitcher, got out of the jam with a high fastball to strikeout ZacK McCrum.
Sam Walker put the game out of reach in the fifth inning with a two-run home run, his first of the season, to bring in Strait and make the score 5-1.
"It’s a tough one to swallow right now," North head coach Jim Cahill said. "South did a great job. They did a lot of things better than we did today. We didn’t really execute the small things we needed to do."