Carolina Forest knew its offense would show up.
It was just a matter of when.
After dropping the first game of its District VIII-AAAA final to Lexington, the Panthers used an offensive explosion to finally dispose of the Wildcats 10-2 Thursday night, advancing to the Lower State tournament.
“The first game was tough,” Carolina Forest coach Jack Jolly said. “We faced a very good lefty and it was tight all the way. Unfortunately there at the end, we just weren’t able to get it done. So I’m really proud of these guys for rebounding, refocusing and coming back and playing a really outstanding game.”
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Patrick Orlando got the Panthers on the board with an RBI single in the second inning, but it was Hunter Baiden that gave Carolina Forest some life.
Baiden hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the third to put the Panthers ahead 4-2.
“That was huge in that inning,” Jolly said. “We needed someone to come up and spark us and he did.”
After Baiden’s homer, Christian Richardson kept things going in the third with an RBI single to extend Carolina Forest’s lead to three runs.
“We finally put a crooked number up,” Jolly said. “Our goal was to get the momentum back in our dugout and once we did, we didn't let it go.”
Dylan Roberts had an RBI single, and Caleb Lindaberry laid down an RBI sacrifice bunt to give the Panthers a 7-2 lead in the fourth inning, and Carolina Forest added three more in the bottom of the fifth to run away with it.
Bryar Johnson allowed two runs on two errors in the first inning, but the Panthers starter settled in and held Lexington scoreless the rest of the way, picking up the victory in a complete-game effort.
“They felt like the bats were – sooner or later – going to come around,” Jolly said. “We were making mistakes early on; it wasn’t like they were really hitting Bryar. Matter of fact, everything was off the end of the bat or he was jamming them and they were chinkers that we were’'t making plays on. We just felt like if we could make the plays, sooner or later we would get to their pitcher.”
In the first game of the night, Lexington and Carolina Forest were tied at 2 entering the seventh inning. The Wildcats strung together three straight RBI singles in the top of the frame and closed out the Panthers to force a winner-take all second game.
Carolina Forest will now host White Knoll in the first round of the Lower State tournament on Saturday, and Jolly is glad his squad can stay comfortable as they continue to play at home.
“I’m just proud of these guys. They didn’t want the season to be over and did a great job of rebounding,” Jolly said. “... Now, every step you take – it gets tougher. The teams are there for a reason; they all have good pitching and they all do things well. We just have to continue to do what we do, step it up and get ready to play. Fortunately, we’re at home and that makes a difference.”