Looking out over Jody Davis Field, it all comes into focus for North Hall’s Griffin Olson.
He knows this weekend’s Class AAA state championship baseball series against Cartersville will be the end of a memorable high school career, as part of a five-man senior class that has set new school records in all phases of the game.
There’s so many memorable moments these five seniors, and a talented trio of juniors, have experienced in this run to the best-of-three title series that opens with a doubleheader against the Purple Hurricanes (28-7) on Saturday in Gainesville.
Game 1 is set to begin at 5 p.m., with the second 30 minutes after the first.
Just this week, the Trojans outlasted top-ranked Blessed Trinity in a three-game semifinal series at home. Setting a new school-record in wins (32), North Hall rolled through the first two playoff series on the home turf with sweeps of both Decatur and Franklin County.
“It’s very exciting to know we’re playing for the state championship, but also sad at the same time, knowing it’s the last time we’ll all play together,” Olson said.
Olson knows that the state championship would bring about pure elation for North Hall. The Trojans feel like they’re in a good position to make that happen, thanks in large part to the production of these five college-bound players.
They are blessed with two powerful left-handed senior starters, Preston Graham and Colton Duttweiler, while right-hander Adam Kelly, a rangy center fielder, is predominately used as the Game 3 playoff starter. East Tennessee State University signee Zach Mize has been a staple at second base every day for two seasons, while Olson has primarily been used as third baseman and filled in well when needed in relief. All five have also been productive at the plate.
Considering all five North Hall seniors have played together, coach Trent Mongero doesn’t anticipate they’ll vary from their laid-back approach they’ve maintained heading into the championship games.
“These guys will be missed,” Mongero said. “They’ve set a legacy for the younger guys to follow from the field to the locker room to the record books and the wins and losses.”
“We’re all so excited right now,” Mize said. “This has always been our dream to win a state title.”
North Hall’s coach also feels confident about a rising senior class that includes three-year starter Andrew Smith in the infield, McCoy Savage in the outfield and catcher Stephen Murray, who hasn’t missed a game behind the plate this season.
“We don’t have any true stars on this team, just a group effort and we have someone else step up big in every game,” said Smith, who is hitting .440 with 52 runs scored this year. “Our seniors this season have been great leaders.”
With the seniors graduating Saturday morning, Mongero said this will be the first time in his career to coach a group of seniors after they’ve received diplomas.
The Trojans’ coach sensed his players were poised appropriately — definitely not uptight — with their approach to Game 3 of the semifinal series against Blessed Trinity on Tuesday. For his fourth win of the postseason, Graham pitched three innings in relief for the Trojans to preserve a 4-0 victory, needing only 16 pitches to do so.
“I feel like the guys are all very relaxed right now,” Mongero said. “There’s not a tight bone in their body.”
Each of the five seniors that makes up the senior class for the Trojans brings something unique to the table.
That’s a big reason why Mongero considers this group the best group of seniors in his seven seasons at the school.
Graham has been the go-to guy on the mound all season with a 12-2 record, 1.28 ERA and 113 strikeouts. He’s produced three complete-game shutouts in the playoffs, highlighted by a one-hitter in Game 1 against Blessed Trinity, and the win in relief to wrap up the series in Game 3. He started the postseason striking out 17 of 18 against Decatur in the opening round.
Graham is hitting .370 with 22 RBIs from the No. 9 hole.
Graham started pitching as a sophomore in the second round of the state playoffs against Cartersville, the team North Hall faces in the championship Saturday.
“Preston’s worked so hard to get where he is,” Mongero said. “He wants the ball in his hands and has delivered when he gets the chance.
“Now we need him to deliver one more time.”
Meanwhile, Duttweiler, a West Georgia signee, was the No. 2 hurler in the rotation all year, compiling an 11-1 mark with a 1.21 ERA. When he’s not pitching, Duttweiler is a dependable first baseman with a .431 batting average and 40 runs plated.
Kelly and Olson were both instrumental in keeping the quarterfinal series alive, when North Hall was already down a game against Pierce County in Blackshear. Kelly, a Georgia Southern signee, pitched five scoreless innings of relief, then Olson hit a two-run, walk-off homer in the seventh inning to keep the series alive with a Game 2 win.
In Game 3, it was Kelly that connected on a three-run home run late to preserve the 11-6 win and advance to the semifinals.
Olson also pitched out of a jam in Game 3 of the quarterfinal series, entering the game with two on and just one out. He got North Hall out of the jam without allowing a run in the fourth inning. Olson is hitting a team-high .467 with a team-high 41 runs driven in.
Meanwhile, Mize is hitting .408 and is tied with Duttweiler at 40 RBIs. He’s also been a key defensive player for the Trojans, including a host of great plays late in the regular season, several against Buford that helped lock up the Region 7-AAA title.
“Zach’s what we call a dirt dawg,” Mongero said. “He’s scrappy, hungry, fiery, clutch.
“He plays with a lot of passion and raw emotion.”
Tying the seniors all together, Graham, Duttweiler, Mize and Olson all have a claim to at least one school record.
However, what matters most to them all is bringing home the state championship.
“I’ve enjoyed my time playing with these guys so much,” Graham said. “I’m so proud of everyone on this team and what we’ve been able to accomplish.”