Alec Wilson could have easily lost focus after he started Saturday’s game 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. Good thing his West Forsyth teammates wouldn’t let him get down on himself.
Wilson broke a 2-2 tie with a two-run double in the sixth inning, and the Wolverines won their fifth consecutive Region 6-AAAAAA game with a 4-2 victory over South Forsyth at Wolverine Field.
"My teammates kept me in this game with my three strikeouts at the beginning [weighing on me], they kept me up and kept my attitude good," Wilson said.
"The energy is great in the dugout right now and that’s why we’re winning games."
The victory allows West (13-9, 7-4) to keep pace with No. 4-ranked Lambert (15-7, 7-4) for second place in the standings and raises the stakes for their meeting on Monday. South (11-12, 5-6) fell two games behind West and Lambert and one back of Alpharetta for the region’s fourth and final playoff spot with three contests remaining.
The game was originally scheduled for Friday but had to be pushed back a day due to rain.
The Wolverines jumped out to an early 2-0 lead off War Eagles’ starting pitcher Zack McCrum (4 1/3 IP, 9 K, 2 ER, 5 H, 5 BB) and held it until the fifth inning.
Jacob Hill reached base in the bottom of the first with a one-out double to deep left field, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a ground out by Alex DeCubellis. Hunter Belue (2-for-3) led off the second inning and launched the first pitch he saw over the fence in left-center to make the score 2-0.
West junior right-hander Johnny Cassandra (5 IP, 6 K, 2 ER, 4 H, 3 BB) made the most of that support through the first four innings, when he held the War Eagles to only two baserunners.
"He attacked the zone early, he got ahead, he kept the ball down," South head coach Russ Bayer said. "Even the swings that we did put on [pitches] seemed more like a defensive stroke than an offensive stroke.
"He did a great job for the first four frames. He kept us off balance, and even though our guys knew he was around the zone, for some reason our guys had a hard time pulling the trigger on the pitches that were there for them."
South finally got to Cassandra in the fifth.
Sammy Walker drew a leadoff walk and scored on a double by Anthony Trovato. Nate Schmal moved Trovato to third with a single and C.J. Kream followed with another base hit to bring him home to tie the game.
The War Eagles had a chance for more after Cassandra walked Austyn Jacques to load the bases, but the pitcher got Nate Smith to ground a ball back to him for an inning-ending 1-6-3 double play.
"Johnny’s got great stuff, he’s just got to get over the hump of when he gets in a jam, he stops trusting it," West head coach Mike Pruitt said. " ... He and I have already talked about that this evening and that’s something we can work on and build on. But for four innings he was just about darn unhittable."
West loaded the bases in the bottom of the fifth courtesy of two walks and a single by Chris Cullen, but sophomore reliever Michael Strait came in and got Belue to ground into an inning-ending double play.
The Wolverines kept the pressure on in the sixth, and Strait was unable to get off the hook a second time.
Sam Sutko reached base with a leadoff infield single and advanced to second on a throwing error. Mason McWhorter followed with a single and advanced to second on the throw to the plate, putting runners in scoring position with nobody out.
Two batters later, Wilson ripped the first pitch he got — a low fastball over the middle of the plate — off the right field wall to score both runners.
"Honestly, it’s [because of] those guys ... the coaches, my teammates," Wilson said. "To do that makes me feel good for them. It’s a little bit of payback for them."
Both teams finished with seven hits.
West right-hander Austin Shea (2 IP, 4 K, 2 H, BB) picked up the win on the mound with two innings of scoreless relief work.
"When you’ve got four schools [from] the same county in the same region, you can’t expect to not come out and it be a [battle] like that," Pruitt said. "You’re going to get their best every time you play one of those schools and that’s how it should be, that’s old school, that’s good stuff. It’s nerve-wracking, but it’s a lot of fun."
West will host Lambert on Monday for sole possession of second place in the region standings, while South will host North Forsyth in what is a near must-win game for both teams’ playoff hopes.