North Hall passed its first playoff road test Saturday with flying colors.
Just like in the first three rounds of the postseason in Gainesville, the top-ranked Trojans (31-5) took care of business, this time with a two-game sweep and 10-2 and 3-1 wins over Ringgold in the Class 3A baseball state semifinals in Ringgold.
Now, North Hall has a date against Franklin County for the state championship, starting May 22 in Lawrenceville. The Lions swept Appling County in the state semifinals Saturday.
The Trojans are looking to win their first state championship since 2017. North Hall is in the state championship series for the third time since 2013.
North Hall was a state semifinalist in 2019, before the 2020 was wiped out due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This is the first trip to the championship with Trevor Flow as head coach.
After the doubleheader ended Saturday, and Flow had time to celebrate with his team, he was overcome with emotion.
Each game had a different feel but the same result. North Hall dominated in Game 1, then had to rally with a slew of late extra-base hits to win the second game.
For Flow, both wins were equally satisfying.
“These kids, all season, have done everything I’ve asked them to do,” Flow said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them for all the work they’ve put in this season.”
In the semifinals, it was the pitchers who set the tone for North Hall’s win. Jaret Bales, in Game 1, and Eli Reece, in the second game, both threw commanding complete games.
Also, both pitchers drove in critical runs in the second game, after going down 1-0 early.
In each of the past two rounds, North Hall’s pitchers have been able to go the distance without having to dip into the bullpen.
Reece, like the rest of his teammates, was in a state of pure bliss after winning in the semifinals. North Hall not only had stellar pitching and timely hitting, but also played mistake-free defense.
“This is a lot to take in, knowing we’re going to the championship series,” Reece said. “We’re just all so excited right now, but our work is not finished.”
In the bottom of the second inning in Game 2, Bales had a clutch solo home run to knot it at 1-1.
Flow and Reece both said the home run by the first baseman in the second game was one of the defining moments.
After going down early in the second game, Flow made sure his team didn’t lose its confidence.
“These kids continue to answer right back every time they need to make a play,” Flow said. “That goes right back to the character of these kids and always battling and giving everything they have.”
Once North Hall got back even, it took over from there.
And Reece was nearly flawless on the mound.
Leading 2-1 in the sixth inning, Bales and Reece both doubled with balls that traveled to the center field wall to extend the lead to 3-1.
Reece surrendered a solo home run to Ringgold’s Colin Mountjoy in the second inning. After that, he settled down and retired eight straight batters during the middle of the game.
Ringgold didn’t get another hit until Mason Parker doubled to lead off the sixth inning, but he was out after a grounder to third and he was caught in a run down and tagged out at second base.
In the first game, it was a little less dramatic for North Hall, after an uncharacteristically mistake-filled defensive effort from Ringgold.
North Hall plated four runs in the first inning and took advantage of six fielding errors by Ringgold over the first four innings.
In Game 1, Reece had the big hit in the first inning with a bases-loaded single that scored three runs when the Tigers center fielder misplayed the ball and let it roll toward the fence.
In the seventh inning, left fielder Bradford Puryear connected on a three-run home run for North Hall, followed by an RBI single from Hudson Barrett.
Bales was superb on the mound in the first game, throwing all seven innings.
The only blemish against him was a two-run homer in the fourth inning by McCain Mangram.
Mangram had the only three hits for the third-ranked Ringgold in the first game, the first a single with two outs in the first inning, but he was picked off at second base for the final out of the inning.
Bales also recorded three strikeouts for the Trojans and he pitched around a pair of two-out walks in the fifth inning when he got Mason Parker to strikeout swinging on a 3-2 count.
Leading into the semifinals, Ringgold had swept its first three series, starting with West Hall in the first round on April 29.