There’s one tradition for the North Hall baseball program in 2021 that stands out above the rest.
Well, winning more than 30 games and being sound in every aspect of the game has been the driving force behind making it to the state championship series, but this is more of a impromptu addition to the Trojans’ tradition that manifested midseason.
It’s also something that will forever be linked with this top-ranked North Hall (31-5) squad that is set to face No. 2 Franklin County (35-3) for the Class 3A state championship, starting with a 6 p.m. doubleheader Saturday at Coolray Field in Lawrencville.
If you’ve seen the Trojans play, you couldn’t miss the shiny gold batter’s helmet with a green strip of hair affixed to the top to resemble a mohawk.
It was an idea, on a whim, from junior catcher Tate Brooks, after he saw that the his favorite team, the Georgia Bulldogs, have a similar tradition for the person who scores a run to wear after crossing the plate.
Brooks thought it would be a great way to rally his squad, which is already an energetic bunch with big personalities.
So, just like that, Tate and his father, Bo, set about making it happen.
“Everyone went nuts when they saw the helmet,” Brooks said.
North Hall coach Trevor Flow said he was all on board with the celebratory Trojans helmet, noting that the team was lacking energy early in the season and needed a boost.
“I really encouraged that,” said Flow, who is in his ninth year with the program. “We had to find a way to celebrate the little things and create good energy in the dugout.”
Flow, a Trojans assistant coach for the 2013 and 2017 state finalists at North Hall, says the chemistry it has on the ball field now is the best of any team since he’s been on staff with at North Hall.
And, if it took a quirky addition to their dugout parties to get the juices going during the game, so be it.
“Honestly, I can say this is the closest brotherhood of players I’ve seen on a team here at North Hall in my nine years,” Flow said.
Turns out, the Trojan helmet has been a fixture since it was unveiled for the Cherokee Bluff series, in early April, and been a point of pride for everyone who gets to wear it after a home run or scores a run.
This weekend, Brooks hopes the Trojan helmet gets passed around regularly during the best-of-three series, as they try to win the second state championship in school history. North Hall is looking to start a state trophy collection for baseball, after first winning the state title in 2017.
A Trojans roster comprised primarily with juniors is eager to go out and put its stamp on program history, which includes three state-championship series appearances since 2013.
“It doesn’t get any better than this, getting a chance to play for the state championship,” said junior left fielder Bradford Puryear. “We’re all so ready for this opportunity.”
And, even though playing for the state championship is serious business — years of playing baseball together for most of these North Hall players — the Trojans helmet is still an unmistakable part of the story in their success.
According to Brooks, probably ‘12 or 13’ different players have gotten the honor of donning the lucky Trojan helmet.
North Hall’s catcher and lead-off hitter said everyone gets the same reaction from being able to be the one to bring good vibes to an already-energetic dugout.
In the postseason, North Hall has an 8-1 mark with sweeps against Coahulla Creek in the first round, Pierce County in the quarterfinals and Ringgold in the state semifinals.
The only series that went three games was against Hart County, in the second round, when it took a comeback to win Game 2 in nine innings and then came from behind the following day with a 12-run effort to win in Game 3.
During many of those hard-fought victories, lots of different Trojans were bestowed the Trojan helmet during what amounted to, in some cases, piecemeal efforts to find a way to survive and advance.
In the state semifinal series, Bradford Puryear had a big three-run homer in Game 1 against Ringgold to set off a celebration with the Trojan helmet, then again in Game 2 when Jaret Bales knocked a solo blast that tied the game at 1-1.
Despite the joy that the eye-catching piece of attire brings to North Hall, and its coaching staff, it isn’t meant to overshadow the hard work or unique bond these players share.
“We all love each other on this team,” said Puryear. “We’ve played together since we were young and are the best of friends outside of school.”
For the trip down to Gwinnett County for the championship series, Brooks said that sophomore Britton Glover is the player trusted with transported their lucky-charm head gear.
There’s other traditions this program follows that not only build chemistry, but also provide structure for North Hall’s baseball squad.
Two of the seniors are trusted with providing the motivation: senior center fielder Jay Johnson gives North Hall its pregame pep talk, while Grayson Kirby leads the team in prayer.
Then when it’s time to take the diamond, the Trojans let their meticulous training, which started with intense offseason workouts and carried over smoothly into preseason and then their run in the regular season to the Region 7-3A championship.
Puryear, Brooks and pitcher Eli Reece all mentioned that when they were in middle school, they floated the idea among one another of having a team that would be talented enough to win a state championship in high school.
However, it would be tough to imagine that it would be their junior season, which for North Hall applies to 8 of its 9 starters, that it would be two wins away from making it a reality.
“Well, it’s really surreal that we’re playing for the state championship and I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” Johnson said.
Puryear sensed after completing football season and he joined baseball conditioning, that their team had something special cooking.
There was still angst about the 2020 season being cut short, due to the coronavirus pandemic, but he felt they had a young but very talented group in 2021 that could achieve the same level of success.
He couldn’t have been more right.
A clear-early defining moment for North Hall came in Game 5 of the regular season when, despite being no-hit by Class 7A state semifinalist Forsyth Central, it still found a way to win 2-1.
The rally started when Jace Bowen got on base with a walk, after battling to stay alive on a 3-2 count and fouled off a number of pitches.
Slowly, Will Robbins, the left-handed ace for Forsyth Central who is signed with Georgia Southern, started to erode after two more walks to load the bases.
Then, North Hall pushed both runs across the plate on walks to beat a top-10 team from the state’s highest classification.
“That game was a full team effort and showed everyone that we never gave up,” said Reece, a right-hander who has a 9-2 mark on the mound and starts Game 2 in each playoff series for the Trojans.
After that game, North Hall lost its final three non-region games.
But, when it was time for the games that really mattered, the Trojans were more than ready, reeling off a 17-1 mark in region contests, including a clutch three-game sweep of state quarterfinalist Cherokee Bluff — the same series that the coveted Trojans helmet made its debut.
And the results were satisfying for Flow, taking all three games as the Trojans closed in on clinching the region championship.
“That Cherokee Bluff series was huge,” Flow said. “They had a lot on talent on that (Bluff) team and it really felt like a second or third-round playoff series.”
Now, a unique blend of quirky traditions, senior leadership, elite talent and relentless effort have North Hall a few days away from hopefully winning state.