In the span of one game, Carolina Forest went from a team that was consistently failing in late-game situations to a team that avoided late drama.
And according to Panthers’ ace Mike Foltz, this was only the beginning.
“It’s open to everybody, but we’re taking it — simple as that,” Foltz said of the Region VI-5A race. “If we can put it together in one game like we did tonight for the rest of the season, it’s ours.”
Foltz and his teammates went on the road to beat Conway 9-2 on Friday. It was Carolina Forest’s first region victory in three tries, but it certainly looked good in the process.
The Panthers did enough damage to Tiger pitcher Will Smith to chase him in after five innings before blowing the game wide-open with a four-run frame and another two runs in the seventh. It equated to the largest margin of victory in the region’s first nine games (by four runs). Carolina Forest was helped by seven total walks, but it made them count with a little bit of small ball and a couple of timely hits.
“We [faced] the best pitcher in the state. Will, if he’s not the best, he’s one of the two or or top three best in the state,” Carolina Forest coach Worley said. “Facing him and what we did against him, that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Meanwhile, the left-handed Foltz again did his part.
After piling up 12 strikeouts in six innings of relief last week in a 10-inning loss to Socastee, the Duke signee had nine in five innings as a starter against the Tigers. The only runs charged to him came after he was pulled with no outs in the sixth, and he gave only two hits.
Conway’s two runs preceded the team leaving the bases loaded that sixth inning, but it wasn’t the only time the Tigers failed to take advantage of their chances.
Back in the second, following a single and a pair of walks, a grounder ended what equated to Conway’s best chance early.
“We need to score some runs,” Conway coach Anthony Carroll said. “We had some opportunities there with the bases juiced a couple times and couldn’t seem to get a big hit. If we got a hit [in the second], we take the lead. … Mike Foltz pitched his tail off and gave them a chance to win.”
With the victory, the Panthers, Socastee and West Florence are all tied at 1-2 inside the region, with leaders St. James and South Florence sitting at 3-0.
Because of the start from those last two teams, Carolina Forest had little choice but to get into the win column now. After all, this squad struggled through the first few weeks of the season, dropping three extra-inning games, as well as Tuesday’s 4-3 region contest at South Florence.
Getting a lopsided victory, then, felt pretty good.
“It was big for us to lose a couple games, to not be able to finish,” Foltz said. “We saw how to finish games. [Against Conway] we piled on runs and pitching was able to hold them. We were able to get the job done.”