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Baseball: West sweeps Norcross in first-round playoff matchup
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West Forsyth's Hank Flood delivers a pitch during a game against Norcross on April 28 at West Forsyth High School. - photo by Brian Paglia/Forsyth County News

The coach and two baserunners jogged off the field empty-handed, which they had done many times during the year, enough to feel almost like an unpleasant routine.

But Friday night turned out differently for the West Forsyth baseball team, in all the right ways. The aborted rally that the Wolverines went through in the first inning of its first game of the night against Norcross would be followed by three runs on a string of two-out hits in the second inning and another three-spot the next frame. In game two, the runs came early and often again.

And what had been consistent for West was consistent again on Friday. The Wolverines’ starters held the leads, and Ryan Ferguson closed both games out, throwing four scoreless innings combined. With the two wins — 7-5 in the first game and 5-3 in the second — West advanced to the second round of the state playoffs.

“I’m exhausted,” Wolverines head coach Mike Pruitt said. “And I’m so freakin’ proud of these kids.”

West’s start in game one was faulty in most senses. Norcross touched up Hank Flood for two runs on four hits in the first inning, and when the Wolverines put Bryar Hawkins and Indy Stanley on in the bottom of the frame and advanced them to second and third with no outs, Blue Devils starter Cooper Stinson came up with three straight strikeouts.

The Wolverines (18-13) quickly pulled it together, though. Flood settled in decisively, retiring 11 batters straight from the second to fifth innings. West’s order surged to life in the second, with three straight RBI hits from Austin Downun, Hawkins and Stanley giving the Wolverines a 3-2 lead.

West added more runs in the third and fourth, and while the pitching wavered, with Flood giving up a three-run home run in the sixth inning and Ferguson putting two men on in the seventh, Norcross couldn’t pull ahead.

The second game proceeded in similar fashion. The Wolverines touched up Rolando Heredia-Bustos for three runs in the first inning and two in the second, and Hawkins held Norcross to three runs in four innings of work.

The ending of that game featured some of the nerviest moments of the night for West, as Norcross’ Pascal Ferreras reached on an error to begin the inning, which brought up Baron Radcliff, a Georgia Tech signee who had smacked a home run in the fourth inning, as the tying run with two outs.

West toyed with the idea of walking Radcliff, but for Pruitt, the logic was simple: Better to pitch to the tying run at the plate than put him on base and face the winning run.

‘I said, ‘We’re going after him,’” Pruitt said.

Ferguson had been sharp, and he had a lefty-lefty matchup. He whiffed Radcliff on a breaking ball to end the game.

After postgame catharsis, West reflected on Friday’s victories by looking to the past. Hawkins remembered what happened to him as a sophomore in 2015, when the Wolverines were hosting

Etowah in a No. 2/3 seed matchup, just like Friday. But that year, West found itself on the other end of a sweep.

Hawkins had that on his mind leading up to this year’s playoffs, and with a wealth of players who were on that past squad, the Wolverines avoided repeating that slip.

“We definitely have a lot of momentum right now,” Hawkins said. “Everything’s working.”

Pruitt thought back to the Wolverines’ status at spring break, when their region record sat at 4-5, the threat of missing out on the playoffs with a senior-stocked roster looming.

And then his mind turned to three weeks after that, when West had secured the No. 2 seed by winning five of their last six games. After a 3-1 win over Milton to close out the region schedule, Pruitt had planned to give the team a day off the following Monday.

But the players didn’t want it, so they practiced.

“From where we were three weeks ago, dead in the water, almost, to where we are now,” Pruitt said, “I can’t say enough about them. I love them all.”