South Forsyth built a 9-0 lead through 2 1/2 innings Tuesday at Forsyth Central, but the War Eagles were still made to sweat out an eventual 11-5 win over the Bulldogs.
Welcome to life in Region 6-7A softball.
“That’s one of the things that we try to talk to the girls about is you can never get too comfortable,” South Forsyth head coach Leanne Brooks said. “I think we saw a little bit of that when we were up after the top of the third. You saw a little bit of relax.
“They were also getting good hits. When they put them where you’re not, there’s not a whole lot you can do with it. We just had to come together, clear everything that happened — the bobbled balls and all of that — and just refocus to get the outs.”
Mere minutes after building their nearly double-digit advantage, the War Eagles (8-4, 2-0) found themselves in a bases-loaded, no-outs situation with the potential tying run on deck.
Keeley O'Hara, Avery Clemons and Taylor Jackson (RBI) led off the inning with consecutive singles for the Bulldogs (8-7, 0-3). A walk to Emily Caron preceded an RBI hit by Kylie McTier. Reagan Bump reached on an error, and Avery Barden singled to load the bases.
During all of the chaos, South Forsyth didn't help itself much. Clemons scored on a double steal after the War Eagles decided to throw down to second, which didn't lead to an out either. Caron later scored on a wild pitch to pull the hosts within 9-4.
“We just preached being aggressive,” Forsyth Central head coach Kelly Gordon said of the inning. “… If we hit the ball hard, sometimes the ball bounces a different way in our favor. I like us being aggressive and making them make the plays.”
With their backs as much against the wall as possible for a team with a five-run lead, the War Eagles started to make the plays needed to maintain their edge.
Pitcher Ellie Balose recorded one of her two strikeouts to steady the ship, and then came the biggest play of the game. Emma Pirkle hit an absolute rocket that somehow went straight to second baseman Charlotte Brooks, who caught the liner and fired to Karly Casey to double off the runner at first.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Bulldogs again loaded the bases, albeit with two outs this time.
Bump and Barden recorded back-to-back singles with one out, and Pirkle drew a two-out walk. However, it was Brooks that ended the frame again, this time fielding a grounder and firing to Casey to close out the win.
“She did a great job of coming back, throwing those strikes and trusting her defense,” coach Brooks said of Balose, who overcame 13 hits and four walks allowed to toss the complete game. “You can’t defend a walk. … She did a great job of trusting her defense to get the job done for her.”
Overall, the teams combined for 32 hits, only three of which went for extra bases. Balose recorded four of the 29 singles.
South Forsyth plated a trio of runs with two outs in the first inning, with Audrey Hui recording two RBIs on a hard liner back off the pitcher and Ansley Chiang following with a double.
The War Eagles appeared to have broken the game open with their six-run third frame. Brooks, Casey and Emme Souter posted RBI hits in the inning, and Chiang drove home a run with a groundout. Sarah Quian's two-run single capped the outburst.
“We’ve been talking a lot lately about making adjustments, within an at-bat and within a game,” coach Brooks said. “A lot of our girls struggle a little bit with off-speed pitching, so the girls really surprised me tonight, doing a good job staying back and not getting over that front foot.”
Following the wild third inning, neither team managed to score again until the sixth, when South Forsyth pushed across two runs and Forsyth Central countered with one of its own.
Kennedy Ariail highlighted her 3-for-4 performance with a line-drive solo home run to left field to open the sixth. After missing a homer to left center by a few feet in the third inning, the senior pulled the ball more down the line this time and cleared the fence.
Souter singled for the third time, stole second and scored on Hui's hit, giving the senior a team-high three RBIs in the game.
Pirkle, Clemons and Jackson (RBI) singled in the home half of the inning.
“I’m super proud of the fight that they showed,” Gordon said. “It’s really easy to tuck your tail between your legs and give up when you’re down 9-0.
“We knew they were going to be a good team. We talked about it last week. They can hit the ball from the top of their order to the bottom of their order. The biggest thing was that we had to hit with them. In the first couple of innings, we were a little shellshocked. We knew they could hit the ball, but then we remembered that we can hit the ball too.”
Forsyth Central wound up with 13 hits, all singles, with Jackson and Barden posting three each. Five of those 13 hits came in the third inning.
It's the kind of offensive showing that can keep a team in the game, but as the Bulldogs search for their first region win, Gordon is hoping to sustain some of that third-inning success throughout the contest.
As she put it, if her team can score four runs in one frame against a good pitcher, then they can score four runs in every frame against a good pitcher.
That's the mentality needed to remain competitive in a loaded region.
“We have to show up every single inning,” Gordon said. “We can’t take an inning off on defense; we can’t take an inning off in the circle; and we can’t take an inning off at bat. We’re still looking to scratch across that first region win, but if we play like that, then we can go home and sleep at night.
“We’ve got to battle. This is a great region for softball, great region for sports, in general, so if you don’t show up, nobody knows who is going to win. Everybody has to show up every inning to play.”