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Brookwood, North Gwinnett battle to split in first round

Photo: Brian Kamer North Gwinnett catcher Noah Ford (14) applies the tag to Brookwood base runner Blake Schuck (5)  during Friday night's game at Brookwood.

Photo: Brian Kamer North Gwinnett catcher Noah Ford (14) applies the tag to Brookwood base runner Blake Schuck (5) during Friday night's game at Brookwood.

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Photo: Brian Kamer North Gwinnett outfielder Cody Short (15) stretches out for fly ball hit deep to left field during Friday's game at Brookwood.

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Photo: Brian Kamer Brookwood second basemen Lucas Sims (26) waits for the ball before tagging out North Gwinnett's Cole Willoughby (1) during Friday's game at Brookwood.

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A Brookwood pitcher delivers the side arm pitch during a game this season.

SNELLVILLE -- Game 1 finished just like North Gwinnett's regular season, with a tough, one-run loss, its sixth straight setback.

The Bulldogs' late-season swoon, where they seemingly found ways to lose, came to an end in Game 2 Friday night of the Class AAAAA first-round baseball series at Brookwood.

Noah Ford was the offensive hero for North with an RBI double in the bottom of the sixth inning for a 3-2 victory, making a winner out of sophomore Tucker Baca. Baca's solid pitching helped the Bulldogs (17-11) shake off an 8-7, Game 1 win by the host Broncos.

The two teams meet today at 1:30 p.m. for a deciding Game 3.

"We got ourselves in position (for Game 3), and anything can happen," North coach Frank Vashaw said. "I'm extremely proud of our kids and how they handled themselves tonight. Most of our season has been very positive and the last two weeks we've lost three one-run games and another where we lost a lead late. It was a lot of games like (Game 1). But we did a great job of shaking (Game 1) off.

"And Tucker did an outstanding job. For a sophomore in that position to step up like he did was outstanding."

Baca (6-1) pitched a complete-game, eight-hitter in Game 1, keeping his team in a deadlock until a sixth-inning, two-out rally that began when Ben Carswell drew a walk. He was replaced by pinch-runner Danny Sanchez.

That brought up Ford and the senior delivered a double to right center that scored Sanchez.

"To be honest, when I stepped in, I thought, 'I'm going to have to put a charge into it to score a guy from first," Ford said. "I got a fastball up and in and just drove it."

North went up 2-0 in Game 2 with a pair of first-inning runs on RBIs from Alex Kimble and Michael Haynes. But that's all the Bulldogs could muster until the sixth inning as Bronco starter Allen Tokarz got rolling.

Tokarz allowed just five hits and was the tough-luck loser.

"That's what you get out of him every time," Brookwood coach Rick Howard said of Tokarz. "He goes out there and competes. He throws all his pitches. I hate that it ended that way."

It was Vashaw who hated how Game 1 ended.

His Bulldogs battled against Brookwood ace Lucas Sims, a projected high pick in this year's Major League Draft who entered the game with a 5-0 record and 0.91 ERA. They managed seven runs off Sims, with the help of some Bronco errors, and took a 7-5 lead after the top of the sixth.

But Brookwood (18-8) tied it with two runs in the sixth. Jordan Dykes and Michael Gouge opened up the sixth with doubles and Ryan Woodard and Sims followed with RBIs to tie the score.

With Blake Schuck on board in the seventh, Dykes (3-for-4, double, walk in Game 1) singled and North's right-fielder misplayed the ball briefly, but not long enough for Howard to send Schuck from third. However, the throw back to the infield got away momentarily and Schuck sprinted home for the game-winner in walk-off fashion.

Though Sims wasn't his dominant self, the offense picked him up. The right-hander threw 109 pitches in five innings and had seven strikeouts with six walks.

"It wasn't (Sims') best night, but he battled," Howard said. "I was proud of his effort out there. And I was proud of our kids. You can be accustomed to expecting certain things out of a pitcher, but our kids competed for him and gave us an opportunity. I'm extremely proud of how we battled."

Ford was 3-for-4 with a double against Sims, while Justin Moran also gave North a lift with two hits, a double and two RBIs. Justin Dutka had a pair of hits for the Bulldogs in Game 2.

Gouge, Garrett Reynolds, Tre Lawrence and Schuck had two hits apiece for the Broncos in Game 1. Clint Carr added a pair of hits in Game 2.