Most of us have heard the saying, “You see the ball. You hit the ball,” and it seems like a simple enough concept, right?
You just may have a hard time convincing the Forsyth Panthers of that, however, after they saw Conway Bears pitcher Hunter Dame strike out 17 of their hitters in a 6-0 victory in the Class 3, District 11 final.
Looking for back-to-back district titles and riding momentum from a thrilling two-out, three-run walk off homerun in the bottom of the seventh inning of the semifinals on Wednesday, the Bears weren’t really sure what to expect in Thursday’s matchup.
Even more of a question was the availability of Dame. After having to use him for two innings in yesterday’s contest against the Strafford Indians, Conway head coach Clay Bilyeu wasn’t sure if he would even have is number one pitcher available.
“We hoped we could get through last night without having to use him,” Bilyeu said. “He told me he would let me know for sure today if he could go. If there was soreness or anything like that, we were going to go with Andrew [Huckaby], but he came in today and wanted the ball and said he was good to go.”
Thankfully for the Bears, Dame was more than available. He was nearly unhittable.
Unlike Wednesday’s contest in which the Bears waited to score all of their runs in the bottom half of the sixth and seventh innings, Conway would waste no time getting on the scoreboard against the Panthers.
“After last night’s game, we talked about how anyone in this district is capable of beating us,” Bilyeu said. “Anybody we see from here on out is capable of beating us, and we knew at some point we would have to come from behind and play through some type of adversity. Granted, we got it on the last out last night, but that is why you have to play all 21 outs. I just felt like we were tight yesterday, and Strafford played extremely well, this senior-led group just stayed focused and played it all the way throughout because they know a loss is it, and they came through. They were much looser tonight.”
After two straight walks to begin the game for the Bears, Wednesday night’s homerun hero Ethan Medlock quickly put Conway up 1-0 with a line drive single to right field.
Dame would help his own cause with a hard liner up the middle for a two-run single, giving the Bears a 3-0 lead. The hit forced Forsyth head coach Jim Julian to pull his starting pitcher, Tyler Groves, before he could record an out.
“We just came out and tried to be aggressive with hitting and on the base paths and put a little pressure on them,” said Bilyeu. “When our top of the order guys are getting on base, our middle of the order guys are pretty good about picking them back up. I think Randall [Rosenthal] was on base four times tonight, and Hunter drove in three or four tonight. What we’ve banked on all year long is to be on base in front of those guys. When we are, we are usually pretty successful.”
While the first inning runs would be more than enough for Dame, the Bears added some insurance runs by matching their first inning total in the bottom of the second inning to give them a 6-0.
Keeping the hitters off balance with a blistering fastball and a curveball that was just as effective, Dame began the game striking out nine of Forsyth’s 11 batters.
“He’s got great stuff and throws hard,” Bilyeu said. “He located his pitches well for sure today and kept the ball down. He was ahead in counts and able to throw his curveball for strikes in all counts. Whenever he can do that, especially with the velocity he brings to the game, he’s just tough to hit.”
In the end, only five Panther hitters put the ball in play against Dame, with the lone hit coming in the top of the fourth inning off the bat of national high school career hits and RBI leader Layn Hurst.
With the win, the Bears improve their record to 27-3 on the season, while the Panthers end their season at 19-9.
Next up, Conway plays the District 12 champion Stockton Tigers (23-3) on May 23 at 5:00 pm in Stockton.
Forsyth 000 000 0—0
Conway 330 000 x—6