Just as the North Hall baseball team’s bus pulled up to Southeast Bulloch High for the teams’ Class 3A second-round playoff doubleheader last Thursday, a storm rolled in and postponed the start of the series until the following day.
So the Trojans did one of the only things they could do — headed back to their hotel and watched a televised ‘Star Wars Day’ marathon of the popular film series.
“We were just flipping through channels, we saw it and kept up all day,” North Hall senior shortstop Taber Mongero said. “A good bit of the guys were in a room together watching it. We had about five rooms between the team, and I’m pretty sure every room had that on.”
When the Trojans suited up for their own battle the next day, their attempt to stay relaxed and loose despite the delay paid huge dividends.
North Hall swept top-seeded Southeast Bulloch with wins of 11-3 and 5-1 to earn a spot in the state quarterfinals for the third time in program history, all of which have come since 2013. The No. 3 seed Trojans will hit the road for the third time in as many playoff series when they face top-seeded Ringgold for a doubleheader in another best-of-three series beginning at 5 p.m. today in Ringgold.
If necessary, Game 3 will be held at 2 p.m. Friday in Ringgold.
As if consistently playing away from home wasn’t enough of a challenge, North Hall had to wait an extra day to start its second-round series.
Trojans coach Trent Mongero said he mentally prepared the team for the possibility of the originally scheduled games getting rained out. But he was still pleased with how his players handled the layover, and he praised his nine seniors for their leadership during that time.
“These guys are experienced, and they’ve seen all type of adversity,” the coach said. “Those seniors have been to the (second round) or further four years in a row. They are very level-headed and are good at adjusting to the circumstances.
“They showed that on Friday when we came out and were able to sweep.”
Anchored by complete games from pitchers Reese Olson and Corban Meeler, North Hall (23-11) trounced Southeast Bulloch in the opener before grinding out a tighter Game 2. Each pitcher tossed eight strikeouts as they allowed just a combined four runs against the Yellow Jackets, who scored in double digits in nine of their previous 11 games.
Trent Mongero also pointed to his team’s defense and contributions throughout the batting order as keys for the Trojans’ playoff surge. But most importantly, he said, the team has finished games much stronger in the postseason.
It’s a stark reversal from how North Hall finished the regular season — losing six of its final seven games, including three one-run defeats decided in the final inning, after starting region play 11-0.
“If you really dissect the end of the season, it wasn’t like we fell flat on our face,” Trent Mongero said. “We just didn’t catch any breaks. If it could go wrong, it did. It’s not like we’ve caught a ton of breaks in the postseason, it’s that we’ve been able to finish.”
The Trojans finished off first-round opponent Pace Academy with two straight victories (4-1, 6-5) after dropping the opener 7-3.
Trent Mongero said that rally gave his team “new life,” and his son Taber and his teammates are riding an even bigger wave of momentum after their conquest of Southeast Bulloch.
“To be able to sweep a one-seed was a huge confidence booster for us,” Taber Mongero said. “We know we can go into a tough environment where things aren’t in our favor and take care of business. It makes us believe we can go to Ringgold and do the same thing.”
The Tigers (29-6) also endured a rain delay in the second round, but theirs was even longer.
Ringgold’s series against third-seeded Appling County was originally scheduled for last Thursday, as well, but inclement weather pushed the doubleheader all the way to Saturday. After splitting the first two contests, the Tigers enacted the mercy rule to win the deciding game 12-1 in five innings Monday.
While inconvenient for all teams involved, the delay allowed Trent Mongero to attend Game 3 and scout both teams in person. Much to the coach’s relief, the GHSA allowed the quarterfinal series to begin today instead of Wednesday due to the lengthy layover.
Trent Mongero said the Tigers, who swept No. 4 seed Jackson County in the first round are in the quarterfinal for the second straight season, are “what you would expect” from a squad that has advanced this far in the playoffs.
The same can be said for North Hall.
“We feel good about where we are,” Taber Mongero said. “I’m sure everyone is well aware we had that stretch at the end of the regular season where we struggled. Now we feel like we’re playing our best baseball. If we keep that going, big things are going to happen.”
Among them could be the chance to host the semifinals. If the Trojans advance, they’ll be matched against either No. 3 seed Lovett and No. 4 seed Calhoun, meaning that at worst they’d perform a GHSA-mandated coin flip with Lovett to determine the host site.
North Hall would certainly welcome the change of scenery after spending the entire postseason on the road and resorting to watching movie marathons in hotel rooms as a way to pass the time.
“It would mean the world to us to host the semifinals,” Taber Mongero said. “Back when we were in eighth grade (in 2013), we saw the guys host a semifinal and a state championship. We set a goal to have that happen for us one day, and we understand that’s it’s within reach if we keep playing well.
“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing. If that happens, it’d be a dream come true.”