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Catcher's two-run blast lifts North past Mountain View 2-1

SUWANEE -- Two innings after his throwing error helped Mountain View take the lead against his team, North Gwinnett's Noah Ford was looking for a little redemption.

The senior catcher found it by launching a two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth that gave the Bulldogs the lead, and Danny Perry shut the door in the seventh to save the game for Jordan Brown in a 2-1 North victory in a battle of state-ranked teams Wednesday at McDaniel Field.

Ford's blast helped the ninth-ranked Bulldogs (11-3, 5-1) maintain their lead in the ultra-competitive Region 7-AAAAA by percentage points over Mill Creek.

And it helped settle yet another region pitching duel -- this time, between Brown (2-1) and Mountain View's Joey Bell (3-1), both of whom had escaped jams throughout the day as the two teams combined to strand 18 baserunners.

"It's going to be that way all year," North coach Frank Vashaw said. "We have a little advantage (in the region standings) right now, but we've got to play again Friday (against Duluth). By next Friday or a week from the day, we could be back in the middle of the pack again. It's going to one of those things where it's ... (all) one-, two- or three-run games."

It looked like Ford's error, which allowed Alex Dedels to scamper home after stealing third base and put the No. 7 Bears (10-4, 4-4) up 1-0 in the fourth, might be what decided Wednesday's one-run game.

"You have to tip your hat to Jordan Brown. He pitched a heck of a game," Ford said. "That one run was not even his fault. That one was on my shoulders. It turned out to be a bit of redemption for me to get that back."

Ford's redemption had to wait after Bell wriggled out of trouble in the fifth with the help of teammate Brandon Griffin in the fifth.

The Mountain View shortstop first ranged to his right to hold Justin Dutka to an infield single on a ball in the hole, leaving the bases loaded with one out.

That play turned out to save a run after Griffin then cleanly fielded Ben Carswell's infield chopper and threw to get the force out at the plate before Michael Haynes was retired on a liner to Payton Fore at second, leaving the Bears still leading 1-0.

But neither his earlier error nor the missed scoring opportunity was on Ford's mind when he stepped to the plate with Alex Kimble on first and two outs in the bottom of the sixth.

"In (the previous) at bat (against Bell in the fifth), I looked kind of silly on a change-up, and then he threw me a fastball and I got ahold of it (for a single)," Ford said. "So, I was kind of surprised for him to throw a fastball (in the sixth), but I took advantage of it."

Ford did, in fact, take advantage when he jumped on Bell's first-pitch fastball and deposited it over the wall in right-center for his first homer of the season to vault North in front 2-1.

Brown tried to finish off the game, and nearly did, but an error and a two-out walk prompted Vashaw to call on his bullpen ace Perry, who needed just two pitches to induce the game-ending fly out to left field by Beau Blair and secure both his third save of the season and the win for the Bulldogs.

Brown threw 103 pitches and went 6 innings, scattering six hits and the one unearned run and striking out five to get the win, while North also got two hits each from Ford, Dutka and Haynes.

Meanwhile, it was another tough loss for Mountain View, which has lost twice by a single run and two more times by three runs in games that were broken open late.

"We've just got to find a way to finish a game," Bears coach Jason Johnson said. "We just haven't been able to, in a close game, shut somebody down on a consistent basis (or be) able to come back late in the game.

"That's just something we've got to learn how to do."

Bell took the loss despite shutting out North for the first 5 innings and eventually scattering nine hits and two earned runs with two strikeouts.

Ben Utley had a pair of hits to pace the Mountain View offense, while the Bears played errorless defense and made several key plays in the field, including Griffin, Fore and Garry Gwaltney turning a double play in each of the first two innings.