North Hall baseball coach Trevor Flow didn’t run out of superlatives Monday to describe his program’s performance in a two-game, third-round playoff sweep against Pierce County in Gainesville.
In a rematch of the 2017 state championship series for Class 3A in Savannah, the second-ranked Trojans (29-5) had enough variety in their effort to avoid overlapping adjectives or nouns from the coach to describe winning in the state quarterfinals.
When it was finished, in fact, Flow summed up his group’s play as dominant, which earned them a spot in Saturday’s Class 3A state semifinals at Ringgold.
The first-day doubleheader will start at 4 p.m. Saturday in Ringgold. If there's a Game 3, it will be at 4 p.m. Monday in Ringgold.
“Guys, that was dominant,” Flow said, after North Hall picked up 6-2 and 7-1 wins in Gainesville. “I’m so proud of so many of you for the way you played, so I’ll just run down the list.”
It all started on the mound for the Trojans, who received complete-game performances from Jaret Bales in Game 1 and Eli Reece in the second game. Bales needed north of 100 pitches but benefitted from the Bears leaving six runners on the bases over the first six innings and racked up nine strikeouts to get off the field without experiencing extensive damage.
“Jaret just continues to improve and throws all three pitches for strikes,” Flow said. “His fastball, curveball and changeup are all getting across the plate.”
In the nightcap, Reece racked up eight strikeouts and didn’t allow a hit until a lead-off single in the third inning from Pierce County.
“We’re playing with confidence right now,” said Bales, who worked out of third and fifth-inning jams by retiring the side in order on strikeouts.
The offense was scattered by efficient for North Hall, which got the ball rolling when Bradford Puryear drove in a run with a single to right field in the first inning of Game 1.
Center fielder Jay Johnson finished the game 3 for 4 for the Trojans, which got a hit for every spot in the batting order.
Tate Brooks, a catcher, and Cooper Helton both had two hits for North Hall.
Brooks and Helton each drove in a run in the fifth inning for the Trojans, which helped make up for leaving the same number of runners on base in the first three innings.
Hitting continues to be something that has Flow concerned, even after lopsided wins.
In the opener, the Trojans finished with 13 hits, six walks and only struck out six times at the plate.
“We really should have put up about 12 runs in the first game and (about) 10 in the second one tonight,” Flow said.
In Game 2, the work at the plate for North Hall started when Brooks drew a lead-off walk and scored when Bales reached on an infield error, despite what appeared to be a downward swing at a 45-degree angle on a 3-1 count by Brooks with nobody out.
Reece and Helton would draw walks in the third inning for the Trojans, which also plated a run on each free pass.
In the latter innings for North Hall, Brooks scored from second base after a teammate struck out, then in the fifth inning Puryear doubled and scored when Reece hit a sacrifice fly deep into the outfield.
In the sixth inning, Ajay Jones put down a sacrifice bunt for North Hall that put its final run on the board.
Reece started hot for the Trojans, strikeout out all three batters he saw in the first inning, then got back to the dugout after the third inning without allowing any runs and the bases still juiced.
Pierce County put its first run on the board in the second inning when Drew Starley connected on a sacrifice fly.
However, Reece would respond and continue to be dominant down the stretch.
“I’m pretty sure that’s the best Eli’s thrown all season,” Flow said. “He was wild maybe once or twice, but he settled down and got the job done.”
Reece’s best moment, perhaps, was setting down Knox Bennett on a strikeout with two outs in the fourth inning and the bases loaded for the Bears.
Starley also got set down with a strikeout during the same inning.
The state semifinal series is another best-of-three scenario for the Trojans.
In there’s a doubleheader split Saturday, the third game will follow on Monday.
The series winner will advance to face either Cherokee Bluff, Appling County or Franklin County for the state championship.