West Forsyth head baseball coach Mike Pruitt knows that his team is just three games into its Region 5-7A schedule and that the Wolverines’ fate is far from sealed. But there were many signs that Friday night’s 4-3 win over Forsyth Central was an especially critical one.
When West junior Bryar Hawkins cranked a low and inside pitch from Mitchell Gross over the left field fence in the first inning, Hawkins extended his right hand, took a few seconds to watch the ball soar over the fence and tossed his bat aside.
“I had to get everyone kind of pumped” Hawkins said.
When Hawkins was entering his seventh inning on the mound, with the Wolverines hanging on to a 4-3 lead, he left no question that he was going to keep his pregame promise to Pruitt of a complete game.
“After the sixth, he said, ‘Don’t take me out, I’m good,’” Pruitt said. “So, we rolled with him, and he stayed under the pitches that he needed to throw … He was just dominant.”
And even when the Wolverines had finished off the victory, one player commented to Pruitt that he’d forgotten how to shake hands after a win.
Friday’s win broke what had been a four-game losing streak for the Wolverines, one that put them in a 0-2 hole to start the region schedule and saw them outscored 29-5 over that span. Offense in particular had been a difficulty for West, with the Wolverines scoring five or more runs in just three games leading up to the win over Central.
“We’ve got some guys that can hit,” Pruitt said. “They’ve proven they can hit, and they’ve just got off to horribly slow starts.”
Hawkins wasn’t one of the slow starters, and while the Wolverines didn’t parlay his early blast into a team-wide slugfest, they had four hits – all for extra bases – in 5 1/3 innings against the Bulldogs’ lefthander Mitchell Gross, a Georgia commit. Senior Hank Flood had a particularly strong game, with a single, RBI double and sacrifice fly.
It was enough of a cushion for Hawkins, who regularly generated swings and misses and weak contact with his submarining motion, which gave his fastball ample sink and run. He had seven strikeouts total, getting Ethan Hankins looking to end the game.
So while Pruitt couldn’t go as far as calling Friday’s game a “must-win,” he did say that West “needed” it. He knew the Wolverines were in a situation comparable to any single game.
“You can’t get behind 5, 6-0 in a game and try to catch up and win,” Pruitt said. “That’s hard to do. Same thing in the standings: You can’t get down three, four, five, six games and try to come back. That’s just too hard to do.”
The Wolverines (7-8, 1-2 Region 5-7A) won’t have to do that, at least not yet. Central fell to 8-8 on the year and 0-3 in the region.