South Forsyth had already erased a six-run deficit, so when the once-pouring rain had calmed to a drizzle with two runners in scoring position in the final frame, there was little doubt in head coach Russ Bayer's mind that his team would cap off an improbable comeback and earn a much-needed region victory.
Instead, the War Eagles' luck ran out as Bradley Prince Jr. grounded out to the right side of the infield, and West Forsyth escaped with a 9-8 win on Monday night.
“We knew we were in for a tough game, and when it comes to county games it's going to be that way. We were just fortunate tonight to come up with the big hit,” West head coach Mike Pruitt said. “They got runners all over the bases with a chance to win it. We finally made the pitch to get out of it, so we'll go home tonight, try to take a breath, and be ready for Wednesday.”
West (12-9, 10-3 Region 6-AAAAAA) saw its 7-1 lead neutralized in the bottom of the fifth when Grant Pearce cleared the bases with a double that sailed over the right fielder's head, capping off a six-run inning. The Wolverines took the lead back in the top of the seventh as Lucas Ellenburg singled to score Thomas Arundale, then added insurance when Mason McWhorter crossed home plate on a bases-loaded walk.
South, 6-7 in the region and out of state playoff contention, hasn't lost its fight, though after another crushing blow to a county opponent Bayer was left to simply admire his young team's in-game attitude.
“I honestly couldn't be any prouder of what we did today,” Bayer said. “It was absolutely the worst conditions we've played in and it came down to one run.”
Bayer was visibly upset, along with his assistants and many players when West was seemingly awarded an extra run as the top of the fifth ended. Ellenburg was thrown out stealing second, but McWhorter was called safe at home even though it appeared he crossed the plate after the final out of the inning.
“That was a pretty tough call at the plate. I can't say which way it went, but obviously we didn't think they scored. It was a tough break, and we've taken a lot of tough breaks all season. But, we never let up. The attitudes were amazing, and it was soaking wet and we played error free baseball today. Every time there was adversity we responded.”
West took a 2-1 lead in the top of the third when Arundale homered to score Connor Weldy. Arundale finished 3 for 4 at the plate with two RBI and three runs scored. Tanner Chafin grounded out to score Indiana Stanley in the top of the fourth before the Wolverines rattled off four more runs in the following inning.
South pitcher Alec Kliphouse earned praise from Pruitt after the game, much as he has with county coaches throughout the year. Despite slippery conditions on the mound he lasted 6 and 1/3 innings, finishing with a line of nine hits, five strikeouts and six batters walked.
West's Hank Flood looked strong early, but was pulled after South's comeback in the fifth. He finished with six hits allowed and five walks against three strikeouts.
“This is the first time we faced (Kliphouse) since I've been here and he's a senior,” Pruitt said. “Both starting pitchers had to fight off a lot of stuff on the mound. I told everyone before the game that we were facing one of the best pitchers in the region.”
South's Landon Sims (2 for 4, one run scored) and Kliphouse (2 for 3, RBI) finished with multi-hit efforts.
South will visit West for a rematch Wednesday. First pitch is set for 5:55 p.m.