Forest rides big inning to a rivalry win over North Marion

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Posted March 9, 2023 | By Allen Barney
Photos By Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette

The Forest Wildcats (4-3) leaned on clutch relief pitching and an eight-run fourth inning to beat the North Marion Colts (4-2) 9-7 on Thursday night.

North Marion starting pitcher Hunter Jones and Forest starting pitcher Mason Laurito drew the attention of multiple scouts but it was the hitters that made the most noise in opening inning.

The Colts scored first after Karson Lindsey singled to left field and moved up to second base on a pass ball. A two-out single to right field by Jake Tompkins gave North Marion an early lead.

Forest would answer in the bottom half of the inning on a run-scoring single to left from Porter Craig to tie the game at 1.

Jones and Laurito settled down in the second inning as they both worked around a one-out walk to strike out the side.

Forest would grab it’s first lead of the game when Trevor Murray launched a solo home run to left field to lead off the bottom of the third inning.

North Marion would answer back immediately as Tompkins singled to start the top of the fourth and was followed by three consecutive walks from Ross Ray, Luis Reyes and Samuel Cauthen. After Cauthen’s bases-loaded walk tied the game, Forest head coach Mark Streit brought in Craig to get out of the jam.

Troy Guynn kept the line moving with a walk to give North Marion a 3-2 lead. Craig would finally get the first out of the inning before a dropped fly ball in left field brought in another run for North Marion.

Cooper Jones would finish off the scoring with a single to the warning track in right field and gave his team a 5-2 lead. Craig retired Lindsey and Tompkins via a groundout and strikeout to stop the bleeding.

The lead would not last for long for the Colts as Forest got back-to-back walks from Jorge Romero and Aren Smith. The consecutive free passes ended the night for Jones, a University of Florida commit.

“We’ve seen a lot of big arms already and we have worked hard on having an approach at the plate and being able to recognize what we want to offer at, instead of just offering at everything and being blown away,” Streit said.

Jonah Garcia came in to pitch for Jones and gave up a single to Jonathan Rubin to load the bases with no outs. Things quickly fell apart for Garcia and the Colts as he hit Brock White with a pitch to drive in a run.

Following White’s hit-by-pitch, Robert Kohler single to right to drive in a run and Trevor Murray drew a walk to tie the game at five. Mikey Mellucci singled to center to drive in the go-ahead run and knocked Garcia out of the game after five batters faced.

Dylan Roberson was brought in to stop the bleeding for North Marion but threw a wild pitch to bring in a run before giving up two more runs on a sacrifice fly from Kohl Kilcrease and a run-scoring single from Romero.

Robertson eventually got a groundout to end the inning, but the damage was done as Forest scored eight runs to take a 9-5 lead.

Craig retired the side in order in the top of the fifth inning and the Forest bats were kept quiet in the bottom half of the inning.

North Marion started off the top of the sixth with momentum as Cauthen and Guynn were hit by pitches. Following a flyout from Rowan Quartararo, Cooper Jones hit a RBI double down the left field line to bring the deficit to 9-6.

Craig would work out of the jam by striking out Tompkins and forcing a flyout from Ray. Forest got a leadoff single from Craig in the bottom half of the inning but stranded him at second.

North Marion got one more opportunity to come back and seemed to be in good position in the top of the seventh inning when Bobby Gottuso drew a leadoff walk and Tucker Jones singled to left off Kilcrease.

Kilcrease, who was brought in after the walk to Gottuso, showed perseverance by forcing a 5-4-3 double play off the bat of Cauthen. Kilcrease would induce another groundball against pinch-hitter Michael Long to end the game and give Forest the win.

The loss was disappointing for North Marion head coach Dale Hall but he is confident his team will learn from the defeat and be ready to go on Friday night versus Dunnellon.

“We just played poorly, got to give credit to Forest. Our guys got to get it done on the mound, they’re going to have to do a better job of stepping up, and they will. They’re all great kids and work extremely hard. They’ll all learn from this situation and move forward to tomorrow,” Hall said.

Tompkins and Cooper Jones led the Colts offense with two hits and a run batted in each.

The word that Streit kept saying about his team is resiliency. With TCU commit Kaden Smith and starting right fielder Keegan Princinsky out with injuries, it has given other players the opportunity to step up and gain experience.

“We were resilient tonight and we just continued to battle. We only had 12 guys in the dugout tonight, so everybody played and had a role. Everyone did their job and that is what we preach all the time,” Streit said.

Craig earned the win with three innings of relief, he gave up one run and struck out three, he also collected two hits and a run batted in. Kilcrease picked up the save, his first of the season. Trevor Murray had a solid night with a home run and two runs batted in.

“This win boots our confidence in a big way because we lost to them in the pre-season. So, tonight was a big win and we are pumped,” Craig said.

While North Marion will be back on the diamond on Friday night at 6:30 p.m., Forest will not play again until Monday when they visit Buchholz at 6 p.m.

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