The state-title hopes for North Hall’s baseball program are on pause for two more days at Coolray Field.
On Saturday, top-ranked North Hall (32-6) opened with a run-rule shortened 13-1 win in Game 1, but lost the nightcap to No. 2 Franklin County 3-1.
Now the best-of-three series for the Class 3A state championship will be decided with a winner-take-all third game at noon Monday at the home of the Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers in Lawrenceville.
“We came out and battled tonight, but it didn’t go our way in the second game,” North Hall coach Trevor Flow said. “We have a great opportunity to come back out here Monday after this and win it for the state championship.”
“I feel confident about our chances for Game 3,” North Hall’s Jaret Bales said.
In Game 1, North Hall dominated, thanks to an eight-run fifth inning. The Trojans padded their six-inning victory with run-scoring triples by Hudson Barrett and Bales in the later innings.
However, Game 2 belonged to Franklin County. Junior ace Kayne Jinks was sharp, throwing seven innings with four hits allowed for the Lions.
“He was good out there on the mound, no doubt,” Bales said.
This isn’t the first time that North Hall has gone the full three games in the 2021 postseason. In the second round, it took every ounce of effort to squeeze out a series win against Hart County.
After that nail-biter, the Trojans settled down with a state quarterfinal sweep of Pierce County, then swept Ringgold in the state semifinals on May 15.
So, the Trojans had little worry Saturday about a two-game split to open the state championship series, which they’re trying to win for the second time in school history and first time since 2017.
The Trojans have been here before.
And, when you’re playing against one off the other best teams in the state, it’s expected to be a battle.
“I think we’re prepared to come back and win in Game 3,” Trojans junior Jace Bowen said.
The Trojans broke Game 1 open in the fifth inning after Luke Erickson and Tate Brooks were hit by a pitch consecutively to open the frame – the second that hit of the helmet of the Trojans catcher – and they cashed in with three run-scoring hits and took advantage of a pair of Franklin County throwing errors in the eight-run inning.
After that, the floodgates opened for the Trojans’ offense in the first game of the day.
Bowen had his third single of the first game, which plated two North Hall runs, after Jay Johnson put down a perfect bunt to load the bases in the big fifth inning.
The Trojans’ starting pitcher Bales followed with a grounder that the charging runner from third base beat to the plate after an attempted force out on an underhanded throw from pitcher Lawson Gailey.
Then, a wild throw down to first base, on the same play, scored another run.
Left fielder Bradford Puryear and Hudson Barrett tacked on run-scoring singles in the fifth inning for the Trojans.
On the mound, Bales was dominating, throwing his third consecutive complete game in the postseason.
He allowed just four hits and a pair of walks.
The junior right-hander retired the first four batters he faced before allowing a one-out single to CJ Blackwell for the Lions in the second inning.
Bales got out of the second inning without any damage, then pitched around a hard-hit fly ball for the first out in the third inning.
A fourth-inning, lead-off walk from Gailey for Franklin County was nullified when he was picked off by Bales’ throwback to first base.
North Hall got on the board in the first inning with Bales’ RBI single, after Bowen reached on a two-out hit.
North Hall catcher Tate Brooks led off the game with a hard-hit ball to the left-field warning track for an out, and did the same in the fifth inning for an out – both likely homers on any high school field.
In the sixth inning, Bales added a run-scoring triple to make the score 10-0.
Cooper Helton had a run-scoring triple for the Trojans to the right-field wall later in the inning.
Bowen led North Hall at the plate with three singles and a walk in his fourth plate appearance.
Bales and Barrett each drove in three runs in the first game.
However, things changed in the nightcap with a more aggressive Franklin County offense.
In the nightcap, North Hall starter Eli Reece avoided significant damage after working around jams with two runners on base in each of the first two innings, then again in the fourth inning.
However, in the third inning, allowing the bases to get loaded final caught up to North Hall. With the bases loaded and two out, Chandler Coulter roped a two-run single for the Lions.
North Hall cut into the lead with a run-scoring sacrifice fly to left field from Bowen in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Franklin County scored again in the fifth inning when Coulter had a two-out double and scored on a JD Ginn single.
The Trojans put a pair of runners on with one out in the fifth inning, but Jinks pitched around it with a pair of strikeouts to end the inning.
In the sixth inning, Landon Davis entered the game for North Hall, which is the first time it went to the bullpen since facing Hart County. He got out of the inning with only allowing a single to Coulter.
In Game 3, Hunter Brooks will get the ball to start for the Trojans. Flow said that Bales kept his pitch count in the 60s in Game 1, so will have more than 40 remaining, if chosen, to pitch in relief.
Flow said this experience has been great for his program.
Now, they can’t wait to come back and cap it off with a state championship.
“What high school player wouldn’t want to come out and get to play in an environment like this?” Flow said. “This is great for them”