Everyone with North Hall’s baseball program was overcome with emotion, but nobody was surprised by the outcome of the deciding third game in the Class 3A state championship series Monday at Coolray Field.
For the second time in school history, the top-ranked Trojans (33-6) are baseball state champions.
“This is everything I could ever dream of,” North Hall junior pitcher/first baseman Eli Reece said. “I’m living on a high tide right now.”
Reece wasn’t the only one having the time of life, after North Hall claimed Game 3 of the best-of-three series, 1-0, against second-ranked Franklin County (36-5) at the home of the Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers.
North Hall's other baseball championship came in 2017.
The entire North Hall baseball program was elated as they posed for endless celebratory pictures to commemorate winning the state championship, the first under fourth-year head coach Trevor Flow.
Flow was an assistant coach each of the other two times North Hall made it to the championship series (2013 and 2017), but this is this group he’s coached since they were in the eighth grade, a tight bond between a group that is expected to return 8 of 9 starters next season.
However, this celebration, under the blistering sun in Lawrenceville, was all about the 2021 championship run.
“I don’t have words to describe how proud I am of these guys,” Flow said, after taking pictures with his 8-year-old son and the state championship trophy.
And the large group of North Hall supporters who made it to the championship game, despite it being a work day, made it even more special. It was also one of the first things Flow pointed out with trophy in hand after winning the state title.
“Look at the support these guys got, for a noon game on a Monday,” Flow said. “Community support doesn’t get any better than this. Our fans at North Hall are so great.”
The best-of-three series was forced to Game 3, after Saturday’s doubleader resulted in a split. North Hall won Game 1, 13-1, but lost the nightcap 3-1.
So, with the season on the line, Flow gave the ball to right-hander Hunter Brooks, who previously had thrown just three innings in the first four rounds of the postseason.
Brooks saved his best for last, throwing 5 2/3 innings and allowed five hits to help lock up the championship trophy.
North Hall’s starter handled the championship-game environment as well as could be expected. He pitched around jams in the first and second inning when Franklin County put a pair of runners on base with one out.
After that, Brooks settled down and kept the ball in the strike zone and let his defense make plays behind him.
“My Lord, Hunter was great out there today,” North Hall’s coach said. “He’d only thrown three innings in the playoffs, but accepted the challenge today and did great.”
“I can’t say enough good things about how well Hunter threw the ball today,” Reece said.
“Hunter did his job today and we’re so proud of him,” said Jaret Bales, who recorded the final four outs in relief. “We couldn’t have asked for anything more from him.”
In the sixth inning, North Hall got on the board after Jace Bowen roped a lead-off triple down the right-field line.
With one out, Bradford Puryear drove a deep fly ball to center field for the run-scoring sacrifice fly.
Puryear turned around in the top of the sixth inning and made a remarkable catch, running toward the wall in left field for the first out.
That turned out to be key, but wasn’t the only big defensive play of the inning for the sure-handed Trojans defense.
For Franklin County, AJ Peeples smashed one-out single between Brooks’ legs, then stole second base.
After that, Bowen made a remarkable diving stop from shortstop on a hard-hit ground ball and kept a run from potentially scoring by not letting it out of the infield.
“All the glory goes to God for us winning the state championship,” Bowen said. “I saw the ball, reacted and made the play.”
North Hall put two runners on base in the first inning with one-out walks by Jay Johnson and Bowen.
However, Franklin County’s left-handed starter Miles Dodd, who threw all seven innings, got out without any damage done.
Then in the third inning, Trojans catcher Tate Brooks and Johnson reached on one-out singles and advanced to scoring position. However, Dodd settled down to record the final two outs for the Lions, keeping it a scoreless game.
Franklin County’s pitcher gave up three hits and recorded three strikeouts.
With lead in hand in the sixth inning, Bales entered the game for North Hall after his pitch count from a complete-game performance in Game 1 was kept under 70, Flow said. Pitchers are allowed 110 pitches in each playoff series.
The tenacious right-hander settled in, despite tough circumstances in the sixth inning, to keep North Hall on top and go on to win the state crown.
“This feels amazing and I’m not sure when it will settle in that we’re state champions,” Bales said.
Johnson is the lone graduating starter for the Trojans. He was big in every round of the postseason, with a couple bunt singles in the championship round and sure-handed defense in center field.
And now, North can settle into a summer as state champions.
“This shows us that all of our hard work all season has paid off,” Bales said. “I couldn’t be happier right now.”