Class 3A baseball state championship game
Who: North Hall vs. Pierce County
When: 11 a.m. Thursday
Where: Grayson Stadium in Savannah
Tickets are $12, per GHSA rules.
Back in 2013, the North Hall baseball team’s current seniors were merely wide-eyed eighth graders along for the ride as the club’s first-ever appearance in the state championship ended in defeat.
Now they’re spearheading the Trojans’ unexpected return to that stage with leadership in the dugout and production on the field.
Senior-laden North Hall can win its first-ever state championship when it faces Pierce County in a best-of-three series, beginning with a doubleheader at 11 a.m. Thursday at historic Grayson Stadium in Savannah.
“That 2013 class set the bar for us,” senior shortstop Taber Mongero said. “Since our freshman year, the goal had been to make it back and finish the deal. We always talked about it.”
Those nine seniors have turned their ambitions into reality, engineering eight straight postseason wins after losing six of their final seven regular-season contests and Game 1 of their first-round playoff series at Pace Academy.
As a result, the Trojans (27-11) are in position to finally fulfill what the 2013 seniors started.
“People look at that 2013 team as ‘the team’ at North Hall,” senior left fielder Drew Hubbard said. “Now we’re not the kids watching anymore, and it’s cool being on the other side of it and having a chance to finish it off.”
Winning the state championship would be a storybook ending to a years-long journey for the seniors who consider themselves as close as brothers.
They forged such strong bonds while coming up through the North Hall school system, and many played baseball together from the time they were 8 years old. Trojans coach Trent Mongero said this year’s senior class includes no move-in players, making for a nucleus of kids who have shared experiences while growing up together.
“There’s really a brotherly aspect to this group of guys,” pitching coach Trevor Flow said. “We have no real superstars on this team. Everyone knows their role and accepts it. They all played junior varsity together, and they’ve seen it all.”
Added assistant coach Gerry Pope: “It’s like a family without the arguing.”
They fit right in with the culture Trent Mongero has instilled during his 11 years at North Hall. He purposely lets eighth-graders practice with varsity players as a way to expose them to proper leadership early and “create a connection from one class to the next,” the coach said.
That was on display during the third-seeded Trojans’ sweep of Calhoun in the semifinals last Wednesday at Jody Davis Field.
Members of the 2013 squad were in and around the dugout during the doubleheader, offering insight and encouragement as North Hall continued its stampede to the state finals.
This year’s senior class used the lessons learned from those former players to not only take the Trojans back to the state championship for the second time in five years, but to perpetuate the cycle of molding future leaders.
“They’ve done a good job overall,” junior Reese Olson said. “They know how to balance us out to the right amount of seriousness or silliness. They know the correct way to act. They set a great example for us on the field, in the classroom and in the community.”
Especially on the field.
North Hall’s seniors have generated a large portion of the team’s production this season, driving in 118 of its 196 runs scored (60 percent). Seven of the Trojans’ eight everyday starters are seniors, and their experience has certainly played a role in the squad’s postseason surge.
“At a school like North Hall, you sometimes have sophomores and freshman starting,” Trent Mongero said. “It’s very rare to have this many seniors staring. They’re going to be sorely missed.”
Corban Meeler has done his part as a pitcher, posting a 1.95 ERA over 82 innings, including two complete games in the playoffs. Infielders Taber Mongero and Austin Adams have also logged crucial innings on the mound.
They join Hubbard, Wesley Smith, Josh Mancin, Jackson Latty, Dylan Lavender and John Mark Montgomery in the tight-knit senior class.
“These guys are what make playing this game so special,” Latty said. “Our brotherhood and our memories really just mean the world to me.”
So would a state championship, and the Trojans’ seniors believe they’ve cultivated the necessary ingredients to realize that dream.
“The first thing needed for a championship team is chemistry, and I’d say this is the best team chemistry we’ve had since that 2013 team,” Taber Mongero said. “Over the past few years, we’ve had moments and disagreements, but we love each other like brothers.
“We’re fighting for the guys to our right and to our left. We knew this is our last go-round in this uniform and our last shot to get it done.”