As the North Hall baseball team was mired in a late-season slump that blemished its previously unbeaten region record and cost it a No. 1 playoff seed, the Trojans’ coaches urged their players to forget about postseason implications.
They said the seeding didn’t truly matter, not in the strong Region 7-3A that features programs like Greater Atlanta Christian and Dawson County. All North Hall needed, the coaches claimed, was to just get in the playoffs and see what it could do.
So the Trojans began the postseason as the No. 3 seed from their region, and now they’re only two wins away from ending it as the best team in the entirety of Class 3A.
North Hall will take on Pierce County for the state championship, beginning with a doubleheader at 11 a.m. today at historic Grayson Stadium in Savannah. If a winner-take-all Game 3 is necessary, it will be at a time to be determined Saturday in Savannah.
But that may not be required. After losing six of their final regular-season games and their playoff opener, the third-seeded Trojans (27-11) have ripped off eight straight wins to make their first state title appearance since 2013.
“For the longest time, we were first in the region,” senior shortstop Taber Mongero said. “Our coaches told us to just get in the playoffs and see what we can do. We knew there were some good teams in this region. Our seed didn’t matter because we are capable of beating anyone.”
North Hall has indeed beaten everyone in its path en route to just its second trip to the state championship in the school’s 60-year history. The 2013 team was swept by Cartersville in two close games.
The Trojans, many of whom vividly recall that state championship series, know how much finally getting over the hump would mean to the North Hall community.
“We have siblings that have gone through here, and people here really aren’t used to winning state titles,” senior left fielder Drew Hubbard said. “Having the opportunity to bring one home, I’m not sure I can put it into words.”
For them to have made it this far is an impressive feat in its own right.
The Trojans limped to the finish line during the regular season, snakebitten by a string of close losses against region champion Greater Atlanta Christian and second-place finisher Dawson County. Three of those defeats came by one run and were decided in the final inning.
“Nothing was going our way,” Mongero said.
Yet the coaching staff felt confident that if the team caught fire, its playoff path would be favorable even as a No. 3 seed, Mongero said.
The spark came in Game 2 of the first-round series at Pace Academy, which North Hall claimed 4-1 to even the series. The Trojans escaped with a one-run win in the dramatic, back-and-forth series finale, finally rekindling their momentum.
That led to road sweeps at top-seeded Southeast Bulloch and Ringgold before the team handled No. 4 seed Calhoun in two games at Jody Davis Field, making North Hall’s late season-slide feel like it happened years ago.
“That could have torn us down,” senior center fielder Dylan Lavender said of the team’s struggles at the end of the regular season. “But the seniors stepped up in the dugout, guys like Josh Mancin, always encouraging people no matter if they struck out or what happened.”
The Trojans’ reward is a best-of-three series against No. 1 seed Pierce County, which looks every bit like a state championship contender.
The Bears (28-7) have swept all four of their playoff opponents, outscoring them 61-8 while posting four shutouts. Their explosive offense complements the pitching duo of Cody Grant and North Carolina commit Cody Williams, who both tossed complete games in the team’s semifinal sweep of second-seeded Coahulla Creek.
But North Hall got complete games from its aces in the semifinal, as well.
Reese Olson and Corban Meeler combined to limit Calhoun to only one unearned run over 14 innings, which means scoring could be hard to come by in the state championship series.
Still, the Trojans plan to rely on what got them here — veteran leadership, dominant pitching, crisp defense and a solid approach at the plate — even if some of them still can’t quite grasp what they’ve accomplished during these playoffs.
“We’ve put in a lot of work to get here, and that’s a credit to the coaches,” senior first baseman Jackson Latty said. “It has been one heck of a ride. It’s awesome. It’s hard to find words for it. I sometimes have a hard time just processing what’s happening.”