Zack McCrum ran into some trouble on the mound while trying to clinch South Forsyth’s first playoff series victory since 2009.
So he made up for it at the plate and in the field.
McCrum ripped a three-run double to right-center in the top of the sixth and helped stop a squeeze play in the bottom of the inning, leading South to a 6-5 win over Heritage in Game 2 and a sweep of the Class AAAA first round series Friday night at War Eagle Field. Earlier in the day, South (20-8) earned a 4-2 victory over the Patriots (18-10) in Game 1 behind a three-hit, complete game effort by starting pitcher Micah Dunn.
Daniel Ross relieved McCrum (6 IP, 9 K, 5 R, 8 H, 3 BB) on the mound in the seventh and struck out Matt Reeves with the tying run on first, clinching South’s first playoff series victory under third-year head coach Russ Bayer.
“It means a lot, but the fact is it would have never happened if it wasn’t for the staff I have ... and also these kids,” Bayer said.
“They don’t let up, their minds are in the right place, they want it. We’re the epitome of a team, from the staff to the boys, everything all the way around.
Missed opportunities nearly came back to haunt the War Eagles, who stranded 10 baserunners in Game 2 as the designated visiting team, including five in the first two innings.
South took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Zach Baus singled, advanced to third via a walk and a stolen base, and came up safe at home when Heritage tried to throw him out on an infield grounder byJesse Gonzalez.
Baus was again part of the action when South increased the lead to 3-0 in the third inning.
With Nate Smith (2-for-3, R) and Zack Sforzo in scoring position with two outs, Baus struck out for what appeared to be the third out of the inning. But the pitch hit the dirt, and Reeves’ throw to first sailed high as Baus raced down the baseline, allowing Smith and Sforzo to score.
Heritage battled back in the bottom of the inning with the help of four consecutive two-out singles.
Fred Umland and Adam Howard each drove in a run with base hits in the inning, and Reeves brought in two more with a single of his own to put Heritage on top 4-3.
“I thought Zack did exactly what we asked of him and made good pitches, they just didn’t go our way,” Bayer said. “The best thing about it though was he stayed even keel ... came back out, had an opportunity to kind of redeem himself, pick everyone back up, and he did exactly that.”
Heritage pitcher Luke Cathcart was relieved in the top of the sixth after issuing a one-out walk to C.J. Kream, but reliever Joe Salvador proceeded to walk Gonzalez, then issued a two-out walk to Dunn. That set the table for McCrum (2-for-4, 2B, 3 RBI), who cleared the bases with his shot to the right-center gap.
“I don’t know where the [opposite field] shot came from because usually I’m a dead-pull guy,” McCrum said, “but it was nice to finally hit the ball that game.”
Zach Whiten reached base for Heritage with a leadoff double in the bottom of the inning and advanced to third on a sac bunt by Ryan Sutton. Whiten tried to score on a squeeze attempt by Phillip Kelley, but McCrum fielded the ball and threw him out at home.
McCrum credited catcher Nate Smith for encouraging him to try for the play at the plate.
“Smitty was working for me all night,” McCrum said. “I was going to [throw to first] and he was like, ‘No, four, four.’”
Ross took the mound in the seventh and got the first two batters to pop out to shortstop Devin Gearhart, who chased down a shallow flare in left-center for the second out.
Ross walked Howard on a 3-2 pitch to put the tying run at first, before retiring Reeves to end the game.
“It was a great job of the boys persevering through a couple of tough innings,” Bayer said.