The North Hall baseball team’s run to the Class 3A state semifinals, surprising in itself, has been full of twists and turns.
The latest development, however, might be the most unexpected of them all.
After spending the first three rounds of the postseason on the road, the third-seeded Trojans return to Jody Davis Field for the first time in a month for their best-of-three semifinal series against No. 4 seed Calhoun, beginning with a doubleheader at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
If necessary, Game 3 will be at 2 p.m. Thursday at Jody Davis Field.
“I can’t say that I’ve ever been a part of or seen something like this,” said North Hall coach Trent Mongero, who’s in his 25th year of coaching high school baseball. “A really bizarre set of circumstances led to this unique opportunity of being able to come home again.”
The GHSA requires the higher-seeded team to host in every stage of the playoffs, creating unfavorable odds that a No. 3 seed would play at home this deep into the tournament.
As the forces that have shaped North Hall’s wild ride through the postseason would have it, the Trojans (26-11) drew the only remaining team with a lower seed than them. Now they have the luxury of playing at home with a trip to the state championship on the line.
The only other time the Trojans advanced this far was in 2013, when they also hosted the state championship series.
“It has definitely been tough on the road,” said North Hall junior Reese Olson. “It has been tiring, but knowing we can come back home in front of our fans pumps us up. This is the most pumped I’ve ever been for a series.”
Calhoun (23-13) also knows the rigors of the road, having spent the entirety of the playoffs away from home.
The Yellow Jackets defeated top-seeded Morgan County in three games in the first round before sweeping Brantley County in convincing fashion. Their series win against Lovett over three tightly contested games sent them to the semifinals, but their seeding ensured they’d stay on the road.
Considering what his own team has accomplished this postseason, Mongero pays little mind to how squads are seeded.
“Calhoun is a No. 1 seed with a No. 4 written beside it for some strange reason,” the coach said with a chuckle.
He pointed out the Yellow Jackets hail from a difficult Region 6-3A, which sent three teams to the quarterfinals. North Hall dispatched region champion Ringgold in a sweep last Thursday, while second-seeded Coahulla Creek is still alive on the other side of the bracket as a potential state championship series opponent.
It’s not so different from the Trojans’ own Region 7-3A. North Hall was one of three teams from the region to win 20 or more games this season, while champion Greater Atlanta Christian also reached the quarterfinals before falling to Pierce County.
“Our region and (Calhoun’s) are arguably two of the three toughest in the state,” Mongero said. “If you have a little slump over a few key games, you could end up dropping from first to fourth or first to third.”
That’s exactly what happened to North Hall over the final stretch of the regular season.
After starting region play 11-0, the Trojans lost six of their final seven games. Three one-run losses decided in the final inning precipitated their late-season slide, turning what could have been a No. 1 seed and the home field advantage that comes with it into three straight postseason road trips.
Their first one started poorly — a 7-3 loss to Pace Academy put North Hall on the brink of elimination at the outset of its playoff journey. But the Trojans rallied to take the series, kickstarting a six-game winning streak that features sweeps of No. 1 seeds Southeast Bulloch and Ringgold.
North Hall’s uplifting turnaround wasn’t without a hitch or two, though.
The start of the Southeast Bulloch series was delayed one day due to inclement weather, and the Trojans resorted to watching a Star Wars movie marathon in their hotel as a way to stay relaxed.
Then the team’s quarterfinal series at Ringgold started a day late, as well, after Ringgold’s previous series lasted five days due to several weather delays.
“It has been emotional, starting with the Pace Academy series where we lost the first game and knew we had to win the next two to keep moving on,” Olson said. “ … We’re not scared of anyone at this point. We can compete with whomever’s out there.”
If that confidence carries North Hall to a win against Calhoun, Mongero’s club will have to hit the road again for the state championship.
The Trojans would travel to either top-seeded Pierce County or No. 2 seed Coahulla Creek, but playing away from home hasn’t been too large of an obstacle for them during this postseason.
“We lost our momentum going into playoffs, but then we were able to regain it even with our backs against the wall,” Mongero sad. “That speaks to the resiliency and mental toughness of our kids. They could have tucked their tails and called it quits, but they fought through it all.”
North Hall’s reward: one more series at Jody Davis Field, which only weeks ago seemed as unlikely as its playoff surge.