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Baseball: West stays in state playoff hunt with win over Lambert
West Forsyth's Marc Ellenburg delivers a pitch during the Wolverines' game against Lambert on April 15, 2019 at Lambert High School. - photo by Ian Frazer

The West Forsyth baseball team’s path to the state playoffs is more like a bridge, in that it could collapse from under them at any moment. The Wolverines could still get in by winning out, but that alone would not be enough. They’d need South Forsyth to lose at least once more, and for Lambert to drop its final two region games. If the Longhorns win on Wednesday or Friday, West’s postseason hopes vanish.

All the Wolverines can do to better their chances in the meantime is win, and with that in mind, they couldn’t be anything but satisfied with Monday’s 5-4 result over Lambert. They’re now 3-10 in Region 5-7A play, tied for last in the region with South, which dropped to 3-10 with a loss to Milton on Monday.

“If there is hope, there’s hope,” West head coach Mike Pruitt said. “So you might as well go and get it.”

Lambert entered the night with the imperative to win and clinch their spot in the postseason, and the Longhorns had a strong start towards that goal, taking a 2-0 lead in the first inning on Garrett Hollenbeck’s two-run home run to left.

But after two scoreless innings between the team’s left-handed starting pitchers, Marc Ellenburg for West and Daniel Fischer for Lambert, the Wolverines came through with a bigger rally in the fourth. The Wolverines put runners on second and third with no outs after Brock Imbornone reached on an error, and while Fischer got a strikeout to stall the threat briefly, Ellenburg came through to give himself some run support.

West Forsyth's Chance Burns celebrates after scoring the Wolverines' fourth run in their 5-4 win over Lambert on April 15, 2019 at Lambert High School. - photo by Ian Frazer
He sat on fastball on the first pitch, but when Ellenburg got an offspeed offering from Fischer, he stuck out his bat anyway and barreled the pitch up, dumping a single between multiple converging Longhorns fielders in left. That scored two runs to tie the game.

“It was a funky swing for sure,” Ellenburg said. “But it’s a big break for me. I’ve had a couple tough outs this year, hitting it hard right to people, so it was good to see a funky swing drop like that.”

Two walks loaded the bases, and Wyatt Crowell extended the rally by putting a full swing on a ball on his hands to send a liner into shallow right field, scoring two more. Matthew Strzelecki then hit a sacrifice fly to make the advantage 5-2 for West.

That wouldn’t be the lead for the Wolverines the rest of the way, as Jonathan Hemings hit a solo home run for Lambert in the bottom of the fourth and Jack Fergusson had an RBI triple in the sixth. West held, though, as Luke Fernandez relieved Ellenburg to finish out the sixth and then threw a scoreless seventh.

Among the three region teams yet to clinch a playoff spot, Lambert has the easiest road ahead, as all they have to do is win once. Longhorns head coach Rick Howard isn’t underestimating that obstacle, though, given what he knows about his team.

“When you struggle like we did early on, winning becomes a bigger obstacle,” Howard said. “It’s not that you can’t – when you’re struggling, you place so much emphasis on it that it becomes a huge struggle. And our kids have got to take that obstacle and make it a little less. So we’re fighting ourselves a little bit.”

And while West can feel the tension of this time of year – the Wolverines were keenly watching the result of South’s game on Monday – they’re trying not to let it consume them.

“We just talked about going out to have fun, not really worrying about winning or losing,” Ellenburg said. “But after this one tonight, we’re pretty fired up. I think it’ll give us good momentum going into Wednesday’s game against Central.”