As a kid, Preston Graham never dreamed he would develop into a great pitcher.
If the eventual hard-throwing lefty had his way back in fourth grade, when he couldn’t throw a strike, he would have quit the game altogether. It was only the insistence of his father, Jeff, that kept Preston playing with the youth leagues in North Hall.
Turns out dad was right.
As a senior at North Hall in 2013, Graham developed his talents to the point where he shattered some long-standing program records en route to its state runner-up finish in Class AAA.
With a fastball that can jump into the 90s and great command of all his pitches, he finished the season with a 1.49 earned run average, a single-season school record for wins (12), strikeouts in a game (17) and career strikeouts (260). He also set the Trojans record for most career wins (27).
“He was a special talent to coach,” Trojans coach Trent Mongero said. “I knew when I handed Preston the ball, we could score 1 or 2 runs and he’d probably be able to pick up the win.
“And he’s such a good person. He was a true pleasure to coach.”
For his efforts, Graham is The Times Pitcher of the Year.
Next year, he’ll continue his playing career at Piedmont College in Demorest.
“This was an amazing season and so much fun, it’s just hard to describe,” Graham said. “We had so much fun on this team.”
Graham solidified his legacy at North Hall with two playoff performances that will not soon be forgotten. In the first round, he struck out 17 of 18 hitters he faced against Decatur and carried a perfect game into the sixth inning, before giving up one hit and earning a complete-game shutout victory. Then in the second round, he steamrolled through Franklin County in Game 1 of the series, allowing just three hits in another six-inning game.
Behind Graham’s pitching, North Hall won the first game in each of the first two playoff series 10-0.
“He always seemed to be on the money,” Mongero said. “Night in and night out, when I handed him the ball to go out and pitch, he seemed to be at his best.
“And we knew he’d be able to compete on the mound, even if he wasn’t at his best.”
Graham also got the ball in a late-season meeting with Buford — the game that decided the Region 7-AAA title and No. 1 seed in the playoffs. North Hall’s senior ace allowed just three hits, recorded four strikeouts and utilized two inning-ending double plays for a 4-1 win.
“It felt good to know that coach Mongero had enough confidence in me to give me the ball in such a big game,” Graham said.
From beginning to end, Graham was clutch all season for North Hall, which also set a new school record with 32 wins. He says his own playing talent didn’t really start to show until he got to North Hall Middle. Prior to that, he was small and not at all confident that he was good enough to play.
Graham still to this day remembers when he was in the third grade, and his coach gave him every opportunity before the game to throw strikes and earn the start on the mound. Graham says he was erratic and throwing nowhere near the mitt of coach Lee Olson.
Graham says that frustration started to grow and by the time he was a fourth grader, he wanted to quit altogether. Fortunately for him, his father refused to let him give up.
It was just that push that Graham believes got him headed in the right direction. He was regularly pitching in the fifth grade. When he got to sixth grade a year later, people around him started to make it clear that the mound was where he needed to be.
With a few great years of high school pitching now under his belt, Graham is excited to see what he can do playing college ball.