Despite all the success the East Hall High baseball team has had early this season, coach Eric Fowler wants to see his squad do a better job of closing out a series.
The issue reared its head again Friday, March 23, in a 10-5 loss against Region 7-3A foe Lumpkin County at East Hall Park in Gainesville. Though the Vikings (9-6, 4-2 region) won the series and stayed near the top of the region standings, they missed out on a sweep in Game 3 after doing the same thing against Greater Atlanta Christian two weeks ago.
“We’ve got to finish the drill,” East Hall coach Eric Fowler said. “We’ve got to put a solid week together as a whole, or we’ll get humbled really quickly. We’re off to a good start, and that’s all fine and dandy, but we’ve got to get better at finishing these series.”
The Indians (9-7, 4-5) were the ones to close the three-game set on a good note, scoring in all but the third inning and pushing across six runs over the final three frames to open up what had been a tight contest.
Lumpkin County pounded out 10 hits but took full advantage of four Vikings errors to salvage Game 3 and snap East Hall’s four-game winning streak. Junior center fielder Connor Pierce had two singles and a pair of RBIs for the Indians, while classmate Dalton Stephens scorched a two-RBI triple to help give his team a 9-3 cushion in the sixth inning.
“That’s a quality team, period,” Fowler said of Lumpkin County. “(Indians coach Dustin Allen) does a great job with those guys. They could have come in here and just laid down tonight.”
The Indians’ first three runs were unearned, beginning with a pair in the first inning thanks to two East Hall errors, a wild pitch and a dropped third strike. They tacked on another run in the following frame after two walks and a throwing error.
“We kicked it around a bit, and that’s unusual for us,” Fowler said. “Normally, we’re pretty clean in the first. But walks and errors will come back to bite you.”
Yet senior center fielder Luke Cooper had the first of his three singles to lead off, and senior first baseman Tripp Rider drove him in to help the Vikings keep pace in the first inning. Junior pitcher Trevor Rider, who drew a walk, scored on a throwing error later in the frame.
Pierce put Lumpkin County ahead 4-2 in the fourth inning with an RBI single, which was set up by another East Hall error. The Vikings, who beat the Indians 4-1 on Tuesday and 6-5 on Wednesday, got a run back in the bottom half on a sacrifice fly by senior shortstop Trey Campbell before their opposition increased its advantage.
Sophomore catcher Logan Choflet recorded a sac fly in the fifth inning, and pinch-hitter Harris Taylor singled up the middle to plate another run.
Then came Stephens’ run-scoring triple and sophomore third baseman Dalton Caldwell’s RBI single in the sixth.
But East Hall managed a serious threat, scoring two runs in the bottom of the sixth. Both Campbell and Trevor Rider produced RBI singles, though the Vikings stranded two runners in scoring position and yielded another run in the final frame.
“This team doesn’t say die,” Fowler said.
Indeed, junior catcher Mike Matuska — who doubled, singled and drew a walk — said East Hall has a knack for fighting through tough games, a trait last year’s squad lacked.
That fight led to perhaps the Vikings’ biggest accomplishment of the year, a 4-3, walk-off win in the series opener against reigning region champion Greater Atlanta Christian. East Hall scored all four runs in the final inning of Game 1 before eking out a 3-1 win on the road in Game 2.
The series finale, of course, didn’t go the Vikings’ way, and Fowler hopes this players can end that trend as they progress through their challenging region schedule. East Hall’s series against region leader and defending Class 3A champion North Hall (11-3, 6-0) in two weeks looms particularly large.
“It’s all good that we’ve taken two of three (games) in our first two series, but that’s only four wins,” Fowler said. “That’s not much. We’ve got to bring it every single week … and develop that killer instinct to want to win the third game (of series) as much as the first two.”
The Vikings open their three-game series against Fannin County at 5:55 p.m. Tuesday in Gainesville.
Lumpkin County, meanwhile, faces Dawson County at 5:55 p.m. Monday in Dawsonville in Game 1 of the teams’ three-game series.