DOBSON — Surry Central spent the entire regular season in the Western Piedmont Athletic Conference chasing Forbush, but there wasn’t much difference between the two on Friday night.
The WPAC champion Falcons beat the Golden Eagles for the second time in four days, but only by the skins of their teeth, as Central ended the game trailing 3-2 and with the tying run on base in the bottom half of the seventh inning.
The Eagles (12-12, 5-5 WPAC) trailed 3-0 after three innings of play, but rallied with a run in the fifth and pushed across another in the seventh with one out. Two Surry Central batters then had a chance to tie the game with an extra-base hit or win it with a home run, but came up empty.
“It’s a whole lot easier when you string it together,” said Surry Central head coach Matt Scott. “We sort of scattered our five hits and they had a couple of hits together and a couple of unfortunate plays for us.”
The Golden Eagles, who would have won a share of the league title had they won both games against Forbush this week, finished tied for third with South Stokes and West Stokes. Seeding for next week’s conference tournament will be determined at the coaches’ meeting today.
The game was senior night for Surry Central seniors Ryan Key, Garrett Johnson, Garrett Durham and Silas Hudson, who were honored prior to the game. Key, who has missed the entire season due to a leg injury but remained part of the program, was chosen to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Both teams threatened in the first inning, only to be foiled by good defense from their opponent. In the top half of the inning, Forbush got the leadoff man on base and the second hitter smashed a hard line drive that looked like a sure hit, but Johnson, playing shortstop for the Eagles, ranged far to his left and made a leaping catch, then rifled the ball across the diamond to double up the runner, who had been certain the ball was a hit.
In the bottom half of the inning, the first two Central batters walked, but Forbush pitcher Tyler Campbell caught one of them leaning off the bag and notched a pickoff.
The Falcons (16-7, 9-1) broke through in the second. Blake Winebarger led off with a single against Eagle pitcher Tyler Myers, and then Myers plunked Tanner Gregory. The next batter, Wesley Wood, made a perfect bunt down the third-base line, which Hudson had to rush to field and threw past first base to bring in a run. With one out, Cole Hobson’s sacrifice fly made the score 2-0 in favor of the visitors.
Durham led off the Central second with a single, but the Eagles lost the inning to more fancy fielding by Forbush, who turned a 6-4-3 double play to get out of the inning.
The Falcons added another run in the third. Campbell led off with a hard-hit double to left, and his courtesy runner scored on a two-out single by Winebarger.
From there, both pitchers found a rhythm and the game moved along quickly until the Golden Eagles’ half of the fifth. Chandler Johnson greeted Campbell with a leadoff double to center. He advanced to third on a groundout by Garrett Johnson and then scored on another grounder by Hudson.
In the top of the sixth, Forbush had a chance to put the game away, getting runners to second and third base with only one out on hits by Winebarger and Gregory. But Myers buckled down, striking out the next batter and then getting a flyout to get out of the jam with no damage.
It came down to the last half-inning, and the Golden Eagles went down fighting.
Garrett Durham stepped to the plate and walked on a full-count curveball leading off. Then Chandler Johnson had a sharply-hit grounder that resulted in the only miscue by the Falcons all night — the Forbush second baseman booted the ball into short right field, and Central had runners at the corners with no one out.
Garrett Johnson nearly won the game for Surry Central with one swing. After coming up totally empty on two swings earlier in the at-bat, he hit a towering fly to the deepest part of center field. Unfortunately, or fortunately if you were a Forbush fan, he’d gotten just underneath the ball and it fell about 15 feet short of the fence. Durham trotted home to make the score 3-2, but Forbush still held the lead, and Chandler Johnson was still on first base.
Now it was Campbell’s turn to buckle down, and he did. The Falcons’s junior hurler got Ryan Gordon to ground to short, but Gordon beat the relay to first and the Eagles were down to their last out. Noah Wilmoth got some good swings in but ultimately struck out to end the game.
Central could be any seed in the WPAC tournament between three and five, and will have to play in the first round. They will be at home if they draw the 3 or 4 seeds, and on the road if they draw 5. Forbush and second seed North Surry will have byes in the opening round. The league tournament is also important because the Eagles may draw a seed that doesn’t ensure them of a state playoff berth. They would earn one automatically if they won the tournament, or failing that, additional wins in the event help the team’s case for a wild card if needed.
“I’m as confident of this team as I’ve ever been,” said Scott. “I like where we’re at for the tournament.”
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.