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Area baseball teams hoping newfound momentum will continue as second round of playoffs begin
Dylan Lavender's acrobatic catch makes SportsCenter Top 10 plays
North Hall's Dylan Lavendar (9) makes contact with the ball during the April 4 doubleheader between North Hall and East Hall in a Region 7-AAA matchup at North Hall High School. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Playoff schedule
Wednesday’s game
Class 5A

Flowery Branch at Locust Grove, 4 p.m.

Thursday’s game
Class 3A

North Hall at Southeast Bulloch, 5 p.m.

Friday’s game
Class 5A

Buford at Wayne County, 4:30 p.m.

Tickets for all doubleheaders are $10, per GHSA guidleines.

When Dylan Lavender returned home from Bible study Sunday evening, his mother began frantically calling his name from an adjacent room.

She had just learned a clip of the North Hall baseball player’s leaping, over-the-shoulder catch against Pace Academy would air on Fox 5 that night. But as it turns out, the player that Trojans coach Trent Mongero said never seeks attention would be receiving much more than a highlight on the Atlanta news.

Lavender’s incredible catch landed on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays Sunday night, the product of intense social-media lobbying by Mongero and others associated with the team.

“It was a blessing and an honor to be on TV like that,” the senior said. “I want to give glory to God for that catch. The play and how it went, I couldn’t have done it without God’s hand over it all.”

The play propelled North Hall to a victory in Game 3 of its first-round Class 3A playoff series at Pace Academy last Saturday. The Trojans (20-11) join Flowery Branch and Buford as the only area teams remaining in the state playoffs as the second round gets underway this week.

Third-seeded North Hall will again play the underdog role when it travels to face No. 1 seed Southeast Bulloch for a doubleheader starting at 5 p.m. Thursday in Brooklet.

Without Lavender’s acrobatic catch, North Hall might not have reached this stage.

The Trojans were clinging to a three-run lead in the top of the sixth inning in the decisive Game 3 when a Pace Academy player crushed one to deep center field. Lavender lunged for the ball as he crossed the gravel warning track, falling to his knees as his face slammed against the wall.

“If he doesn’t make that catch, it’s probably an inside-the-park home run or a triple,” Mongero said. “It was a huge momentum play and one of the top three plays I’ve seen as a high school coach, especially with the scenario being what it was. He showed no fear.”

Lavender — who the Greater Hall County Fellowship of Christian Athletes recognized last week as its Male Athlete of the Year — and his coach were both surprised he managed to hold on to the ball, especially considering how much pain the center fielder said he experienced when he hit the wall.

He credited his teammates for helping him blindly navigate the outfield while he tracked the fly ball over his shoulder.

They were also there to pick him up and celebrate after the play that got him on national TV.

“I’m blessed to have these guys. Right after I hit the wall, they were checking on me,” Lavender said. “I hit the wall and was in a daze. I was kind of out of it for a couple seconds. It meant a lot to have them there for me.”

Lavender’s potentially run-saving play loomed large over the game — No. 2 seed Pace Academy tallied two runs in the final inning, but North Hall held on for a 6-5 win that sent it to the second round of the playoffs for the seventh straight season.

It also gave “new life,” Mongero said, to a team that closed the regular season in somewhat of a slump with losses in six of its final seven games.

“We needed a jolt of confidence, a friendly reminder of what we’re capable of,” the coach said. “Nothing accomplishes that more than winning, and winning two in a row the way we did. I could sense life, relief, trust, energy and confidence being resurged into our veins.”

Flowery Branch coach Heath Kennedy can also identify a turning point in his team’s season.

After enduring some typical growing pains and one-run losses under their first-year coach, the Class 5A Falcons (18-11) pulled off a 1-0, extra-innings win against Buford on April 12. That kickstarted a seven-game winning streak, which features a first-round sweep of Riverwood last weekend.

“I think sometimes kids have to get into the routine of knowing their coaches and what to expect,” Kennedy said. “When we beat Buford, it flipped the script. I think our kids gained some confidence and believed more in what we were doing.”

Now third-seeded Flowery Branch will travel to face defending Class 4A state champion Locust Grove for a doubleheader beginning at 4 p.m. Wednesday. The teams moved the game forward a day due to forecasts of rain this week.

“Baseball is a game of adjustments,” Kennedy said with a chuckle.

Lavender is now adjusting to having appeared on SportsCenter, but Mongero doesn’t expect him to have any issues with that.

“He’s humble, hard-working and strong in faith,” Mongero said. “You’d think for most kids, this would be an amazing thing for them. But he was just very appreciative that we as a staff felt that we could share that with ESPN. He has taken it all in stride.”

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