KING — It had been so long, and so much had happened since North Surry last met Forbush that it almost felt like a different season when the Falcons and Greyhounds clashed in the Western Piedmont Athletic Conference tournament championship game.
Exactly 50 days had passed since Forbush beat North Surry on back-to-back evenings early in the WPAC season. The day after the second loss to the Falcons, the Hounds caught fire and won 17 out of 18 games to finish in a second-place tie in the league standings, a tie they broke in Wednesday’s semifinals by beating Walkertown. That brought them to Friday’s final, and a third meeting with Forbush.
The teams entered the championship game with identical 19-5 records, but it was the Falcons who walked out with their 20th win and a clean sweep of the WPAC titles for 2018. Forbush broke open a tight game with a seven-run fifth inning and coasted to an 8-1 victory.
“It’s always nice to hit the ball that well in a championship game and head into the playoffs on a high note,” said Forbush head coach Jack Moss, who was named as the 2018 WPAC Coach of the Year following the game. “They’re a talented ball-club and it’s always fun to play them. I’m glad they’re in our conference.”
Forbush entered its third meeting with North Surry quietly confident. Although the Falcons knew that North Surry was both good and on a roll, they had managed to beat the Hounds two times already without the services of their ace pitcher and starting catcher, and both players were in the lineup on Friday. The pitcher, senior Peyton Winebarger, wasted little time introducing himself in the championship game. He walked Kobe Slate on four pitches to open it up, but then struck out Nick Badgett while catcher Carter Foster introduced himself by throwing out Slate trying to steal on the third strike. Another strikeout followed, and it was a 1-2-3 inning for the Falcons.
Early on, North Surry’s Mason Gwyn was matching Winebarger on the mound. He allowed a hit to Foster in the bottom half of the first, but strong pitching and defense by the Hounds prevented a run from scoring.
The Falcons took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Winebarger helped his own cause by driving a pitch over the left-field fence, but Gwyn didn’t back down. He ended the inning by going strikeout-popup-strikeout.
Forbush got a runner into scoring position with two out in the third, but North Surry first baseman Calvin Johnson made a leaping grab on a hard line drive by Foster, and the inning ended.
The Hounds finally got to Winebarger in the top of the fourth. Badgett hit a low-line drive down the third-base line with one out. The Forbush pitcher got Mack Cooke to fly out, but Clay Tompkins drove a ball into center field for a double. North Surry head coach Tony Martin waved Badgett home ahead of the throw and the Hounds pulled even on the scoreboard.
Forbush got a man to third base in the bottom half of the inning, but Gwyn struck out Alex Boyles on a full-count pitch to end the inning.
The Falcons finally broke through in the next frame. Landreth Cockerham opened the inning with a hard-hit double to right field, and Jacob Lilly followed with a walk. Then good fortune, which had frowned on the Falcons a few times earlier in the game, smiled on them. Wesley Wood hit a Baltimore chop grounder toward first, which took a high hop over the head of Johnson and sailed into right field. Both runners scored, and Wood raced into second base when the Hounds missed the cutoff man throwing the ball back in. That led to another run when Foster singled, and then the floodgates opened. Blake Winebarger doubled to make it 5-1. An RBI single by Tallon Flynn and a groundout by Boyles added two more. The final run came when Cockerham and Flynn executed a play where the former got himself caught in a rundown between first and second for long enough that Flynn crossed home plate.
(Gwyn) had more velocity than the last time we saw him, but we weren’t striking out and we were hitting the ball, and we thought it was just a matter of time before we started getting some back-to-back hits,” said Moss. “Everything went our way that inning. That ball (Wood’s) hit a rock or something, but we’d hit it right it into their gloves a couple of times earlier. That’s just baseball.”
The last two innings were relatively uneventful, and the Falcons went on to collect their trophies after the All-Conference teams were announced. Wood was named as the tournament’s MVP.
John Cate may be reached on Twitter at @johncate73.