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Baseball: West tops Central in latest installment of growing rivalry
West Forsyth's Drew Southern prepares to make a throw to first during the Wolverines' game against Forsyth Central on April 16, 2018 at Forsyth Central High School. - photo by Brian Paglia

The West Forsyth baseball team’s 6-4 win over Forsyth Central on Monday did nothing for the Wolverines’ playoff chances, because they were eliminated from contention last week and currently sit in last place in Region 5-7A.

But here’s what senior catcher Indy Stanley has to say.

“Beating Central, honestly, is probably better than playing in the playoffs,” Stanley said.

The game was far from meaningless, as Central’s playoff seed is still to be decided – it could be anywhere from No. 2 to No. 4 – and a large crowd of MLB scouts and front office personnel gathered behind the Bulldogs’ backstop to watch Central starter Ethan Hankins, a projected first-round pick.

Central and West have also seen their rivalry extend into unfriendly territory this season. The teams’ first game of the season was a wild 11-10 win in the Wolverines’ favor, and Stanley and Bulldogs outfielder Jacob Holton had a heated exchange during that game, resulting in both players being ejected.

Facing a highly-touted prospect like Hankins is a different opportunity for region players, and they approach it as such. Stanley struck out on a 95-mph fastball in the first inning against Hankins, but on the second pitch of his at-bat in the fourth inning he smashed a fastball over the center-field fence.

Hankins’ and Stanley’s accounts of the events leading up to and during the incident vary significantly. But the two exchanged words as Stanley rounded the bases.

“I do know for a fact (that) there’s been a lot of back-and-forth,” Wolverines head coach Mike Pruitt said. “So I can’t say my kid reacted any different than anybody else would who hits a home run off a No. 1 draft pick.”

West’s dugout cheered loudly on every ball when Hankins walked Ryan Gray and Bowen Bock later in the inning, and the Wolverines got even louder when Cade Pruitt doubled to left-center, scoring both runners and giving the West a 3-2 lead.

The Bulldogs retook the lead in the fifth inning when Jacob Holton doubled to right field, scoring Parker Jones and Greg Wozniak, but Bock hit an RBI single in the bottom of the frame to tie the game, and West took a 6-4 lead in the top of the seventh on Wyatt Crowell’s RBI triple and Gray’s RBI single. Zach Burns got two outs in the bottom of the seventh before running into the pitch limit, and Matthew Cassandra struck out Jonathan Bergmoser to end the game.

A good portion of the Wolverines’ satisfaction with the win stemmed from the teams’ sometimes-contentious shared history. But they exchanged handshakes without incident, and Pruitt said that the relationship he has with Bulldogs head coach Kevin McCollum is a friendly one. McCollum declined to offer a take on the players’ reactions.

“We’ve just got to worry about playing baseball and not worry about all the other stuff,” he said.

And Mike Pruitt spoke of the win’s importance in the context of West’s entire season, rather than just their games against Central. The Wolverines had a pair of one-run losses last week against South, the region champion, and had a pair of wins against Marist during the week of spring break.

“We have every reason in the world to throw in the towel,” Pruitt said. “Because we know we have nothing to play for except maybe a little bit of pride.”

He quickly reconsidered, with the Wolverines still celebrating as they packed up the dugout behind him.

“Obviously not: They’ve got a lot of pride about themselves.”