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Baseball: Hawkins' pitching, Stanley's home run help West Forsyth clinch home playoff series
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West Forsyth senior Bryar Hawkins delivers a pitch Friday against Milton in the Wolverines' 3-1 victory. Hawkins threw a complete game, and West secured a No. 2 seed in the Class 7A state playoffs. - photo by Brian Paglia

West Forsyth rode another strong pitching performance, this time by senior Bryar Hawkins, to end the regular season with a 3-1 win over Milton to clinch the No. 2 seed in Region 5-7A and a first-round home playoff game.

Hawkins threw a complete game, six-strikeout performance, just two days after fellow senior Hank Flood went six innings, recording seven strikeouts, in a 2-1 win over Forsyth Central. If West lost either of those two games, they would have been on the road in the first round of the state playoffs.

“We knew that was going to be our backbone,” West coach Mike Pruitt said of the team’s pitching. “We knew we had a great group of pitchers.”

“We all try to act like we’re the No. 1 guy or the ace,” Hawkins said. “But all three of our starting pitchers (Hawkins, Flood and Jay Thompson) are just so good. We’re really all the aces.”

The game did not start off well for the Wolverines. Milton struck first in the second inning after a West outfielder misjudged the hop of a baseball hit to shallow right-center field, and as it skirted past his glove towards the outfield wall, the Milton baserunner, who had also reached base on an error, rounded third on his way home to score the first run of the game.

It didn’t take long for West to recover, however, as Bowen Bock blasted an RBI single with runners on first and second to tie the game in the bottom of the third inning. After Milton’s starting pitcher Mason Kenney loaded the bases later in the same inning, pitcher Trevor Iannone came in to relieve Kenney and proceeded to throw a bases-loaded wild pitch to give West the 2-1 lead heading into the fourth inning.

It remained 2-1 until West’s Indy Stanley stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the fifth, connecting on a slow curve ball that just kept going back and back until finally landing on the other side of the left field wall for the solo homerun.

“(The homerun) really depleted the confidence of (Milton),” Stanley said. “And it gave us confidence going into it. Gives us a little bit more insurance, a little bit more confidence going about ourselves.

“A little bit more swagger.”

That bit more swagger was enough to carry Hawkins through until the end. Pruitt said he was prepared to pull Hawkins in the seventh inning at the first sign of trouble, but there was no trouble as Hawkins pitched a 1-2-3 inning to send Milton home with a loss and keep the Wolverines at home for the first-round of the state playoffs.

 “There’s nothing like being at home,” Pruitt said. “Getting to play in front of your crowd, on your field.”