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Preview: North Hall's talent-rich baseball program taking humble approach after 2021 state championship
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North Hall's Jace Bowen, center, celebrates with teammates Monday, May 24, 2021, after scoring the only run the Trojans would need to win the state championship at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville. - photo by Scott Rogers

Eli Reece is keenly aware of how fast time flies. 

It seems like just yesterday to the North Hall senior right-handed pitcher that his program was celebrating the Class 3A state championship at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville. 

However, it’s been about nine months since the top-ranked Trojans (33-6 last season) closed out the program’s second-ever baseball state title, after claiming victory in a thrilling three-game series against Franklin County. 

On Tuesday, North Hall starts the 2022 campaign with a game against Class A’s 11th-ranked Hebron Christian at Lynn Cottrell Field in Gainesville. 

“It’s a little hard to believe that it’s already here,” said Reece, who is part of a Trojans pitching rotation that has all three starters back in 2022. “I think we have a chance to do something special this season.”

To say North Hall is loaded again this season is putting it mildly. 

And it’s one final ride together for a group of guys who starting playing travel ball together 10 years ago and were joined together as students at North Hall Middle in the sixth grade. 

To say they have a strong bond and proven chemistry is an understatement. 

“I’m so excited for the season to get started,” starting senior left fielder Bradford Puryear said. “We’ve grown as a team and grown individually.”

The Trojans, anchored by 2021 Class 3A state Player of the Year Jace Bowen at shortstop, have 7 of 8 starters in the field back again this season. 

However, Trojans coach Trevor Flow is cautious about getting overly optimistic before the regular season even begins. 

Right down the road, Cherokee Bluff is ranked No. 3 in the state and has added new talent and will be a contender in Region 7-3A. 

Also in Class 3A, Franklin County, Oconee County and Pierce County, just to name a few, are also improved this season, Flow said. 

“We have to be better this season,” said Flow, who is in his fifth year as Trojans head coach. “We got better in the offseason, but so did a lot of other teams in the state.”

Still, the sum of its parts makes North Hall look like a pretty safe pick to win the state championship.

In addition to Bowen (.353 average, 48 RBIs last season), the Trojans have lots of offensive depth and power, led by senior catcher Tate Brooks, third baseman Hudson Barrett, second baseman Luke Erickson and Puryear, to name a few. 

And the pitching rotation was lights out in 2021. 

And Reece, Jaret Bales (signed with North Georgia) and Hunter Brooks (Nicholls State) — all right-handers — are all ready to improve on championship numbers last season. 

Senior right-hander Landon Davis, again, will be the reliable arm out of the bullpen. 

Speedy sophomore Ajay Jones will take on a starting role in the outfield, when basketball season is finished, to offset the loss of the only season to graduate from last season’s squad, Jay Johnson, who now plays at Division-II Young Harris. 

Not only is North Hall’s baseball program filled with talent, but also modest about its accomplishments, knowing this is a new season. 

“This is a great group of kids on this team,” Flow said. “I’m extremely close with this group. I’ve been with them for five seasons now.”

Having a target on their backs this season will only make North Hall better, Reece said. 

“Pressure is a privilege,” Reece said. “I appreciate having the pressure on us.”

Right away, North Hall will play a challenging non-region schedule that includes a pair of games against Class 4A’s second-ranked North Oconee. 

In addition, the Trojans will twice play Chestatee, a 2021 state playoff qualifier in Class 4A, along with a talented Class 7A North Forsyth in non-region play. 

However, this group of Trojans has proved that playing top-tier talent is not too much to handle. 

In the 2021 postseason, North Hall won a first-round series against Coahulla Creek, and then beat top-five-ranked programs (Hart County, Pierce County, Ringgold and Franklin County) en route to the championship. 

To win state in 2021, North Hall put on a sterling showing in a two-game sweep of No. 2 Ringgold in the state semifinals. 

In Game 3, of the championship series, Brooks threw a gem with the season on the line. 

Bowen had a triple late in the game and scored the only run. Then, he turned around and made a run-saving stop on a hard-hit ball up the middle. 

Still, Reece and the rest of the Trojans’ program is trying to compartmentalize that crowning achievement. 

This is a whole new ball of wax in 2022. 

And North Hall feels up to the challenge. 

“I feel like we have an even better team bond and brotherhood this season,” Puryear said. “I feel like that’s going to carry us a long way.”

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