SAVANNAH — The phrase is written across the backs of the North Hall baseball team’s shirts, plastered on signs surrounding Jody Davis Field in Gainesville and on the lips of the Trojans every time they break a huddle.
“Leave No Doubt” — the team’s slogan this season — became more of a way of life than a rallying cry, coach Trent Mongero explained. It applied to his players on both the individual and team levels, a reminder to always put forth the best effort possible and prove wrong anyone who questioned what they were capable of.
On Thursday, North Hall left no doubt about which team was the best in Class 3A.
The third-seed Trojans swept No. 1 seed Pierce County 9-2 and 6-5 here at historic Grayson Stadium to claim the program’s first-ever state championship.
It capped the Trojans’ stunning playoff run of 10-straight wins after they lost their first round opener. That came after a 1-6 slide to end the regular season, a time when the doubt surrounding the team reached its highest point.
“It feels really cool that we were able to turn this around,” senior shortstop Taber Mongero said. “We were counted out by a lot of people, and there may have even been some of us who started counting ourselves out. But we wanted to leave no doubt.”
The North Hall community will undoubtedly remember them for a long time, having witnessed the school’s first baseball state championship in its 60-year history.
The only other team to even make it this far was the 2013 squad that suffered a sweep in the state title series, and a sizeable contingent of fans made the five-hour trek from Gainesville to watch this year’s team finally finish what that team started.
“We did this for those 2013 guys,” senior left fielder Drew Hubbard said. “It means a lot for all of North Hall.”
Several players from that state runner-up team were present Thursday, including junior pitcher/third baseman Reese Olson’s older brother Griffin.
“I’ve got bragging rights over him for the rest of my life,” Reese Olson said with a grin.
He was instrumental in the Trojans’ historic victory, producing three RBIs and tossing a complete game in the doubleheader opener. It was Olson’s fifth complete game in as many starts this postseason, and he stranded nine baserunners in the outing.
North Hall (29-11) tagged Pierce County starting pitcher Cody Grant for five runs on six hits, prompting his removal with no outs in the third inning. The Bears (28-9), who had cruised to eight straight playoff wins by outscoring opponents 61-8, seemed a bit shellshocked by the early onslaught.
“Jumping out big in that first game was huge momentum for us,” Trent Mongero said. “In a series like this, with as much pitching as they have, I thought it was really, really important.”
A four-run uprising in the sixth inning put the game out of reach, with Olson and senior first baseman Jackson Latty (both 5 for 8 on the day) producing run-scoring hits.
Game 2 appeared to be heading for a pitchers’ duel as North Hall’s Corban Meeler and Pierce County’s Cody Williams both cruised through the first two innings.
But the Trojans exploded for six runs on six hits in top of the third, starting with four straight singles against Williams, a University of North Carolina commit. Wesley Smith plated a run with a groundout, Dylan Lavender hit an RBI double and Taber Mongero dove headfirst to beat out a close throw at first base that ended up scoring the deciding run.
“They had a good pitcher in Game 2, and he had a disgusting curveball,” Hubbard said. “But (pitching coach Trevor) Flow scouted them so hard. We worked on things in the batting cages, so what we saw wasn’t really a surprise.”
Yet it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Trojans.
Pierce County, pushed against the wall for the first time all postseason, mounted a two-out rally to score three runs in the bottom half of the inning. It re-energized the team’s fans, who filled up more than half the stadium after making the much shorter drive from Blackshear.
The Bears tacked on another run in the fourth inning and seemed poised for more with the bases loaded, but Meeler induced a 5-2-3 double play to maintain his team’s tenuous lead.
“I just tried to do my best,” Meeler said. “I knew I had to go out there and compete, even when I didn’t have my best stuff. I got some balls put in play and let my defense do the rest of the work behind me.”
Things got dicey in the bottom of the seventh inning, when Pierce County cut the deficit to 6-5 and got the tying run to second base with two outs. But Meeler forced a high fly ball to left field that Hubbard ran under for the historic final out.
“I had dreamed it so many times that really nothing was going through my mind,” Hubbard said. “I just thought to squeeze the ball and make sure I caught it.”
He did, sending the Trojans sprinting toward the pitcher’s mound for a celebratory dogpile. Smith ran to embrace Meeler in his catcher’s gear, and Taber Mongero led the rest of the fielders to meet them in a cathartic moment 60 years in the making.
“Any time you play a game where the score is tight and there are titles on the line, it’s going to bring more of an emotional release right at the end,” Trent Mongero said.
The outpouring of emotion spilled over to a field adjacent to Grayson Stadium, where the team continued its celebration with family and friends.
During a team photo, Sonya Mongero — wife of Trent and mother of Taber — teased the players and coaches to “shave their beards,” referring to the scruff many of them had let grow since the playoffs began.
Meeler was more than happy to oblige, matter-of-factly saying he brought his razor to Savannah to finally rid himself of the scraggly mustache and goatee that framed his features.
While Taber Mongero spoke to reporters, father Trent ran over and planted a huge kiss on his cheek before placing the game ball in his hand.
The scene hardly seemed imaginable less a month ago, when the Trojans were stuck in a 1-7 skid and on the brink of being eliminated from the playoffs. But, as it turns out, that slump punctuated by the Game 1 loss at Pace Academy was a necessary stepping stone for North Hall’s improbable playoff push.
“Going three games in the first round was important because it helped us deal with adversity,” Taber Mongero said. “In any playoff run, there’s going to be adversity, and you’ve got to handle it. It’s going to be a rollercoaster.”
The Trojans’ rollercoaster started with a preseason No. 1 ranking, Trent Mongero said, but ended on an even higher peak.
Having experienced such a harsh valley made it even sweeter.
“We had our trials, and they were big,” Trent Mongero said. “But we were better because of it. It really united our group, and our players expressed that over the last couple weeks. Look where we are now: No. 1 at the end and state champions.”
There’s no doubt about that.