BLACKSHEAR — This much is certain: one way or another, North Hall will end its historic season in the friendly confines of Jody Davis Field.
The Trojans jumped out to an early 6-0 lead in Game 3 of the Class AAA state quarterfinals, but needed another standout performance from Game 2 hero Adam Kelly to finish off an 11-6 victory over a pesky Pierce County squad on Wednesday in Blackshear.
Kelly launched a three-run home run in the sixth inning — after the Bears narrowed the score to 7-6 in the bottom of the fifth — and picked up a save on the mound with 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief.
North Hall (30-3) advances to the state semifinals for the first time in program history and will host Blessed Trinity in another best-of-three series. The Trojans will also host the state championship series if they advance.
“It means everything to us to get back home, play in the final four and have a shot at a state championship on our home turf,” Trojans coach Trent Mongero said with tears in his eyes. “We tip our hats to Pierce County. They’re one heck of a ball club, very well coached and fought us to the very end, but I’m just extremely proud of our team and particularly our seniors for stepping up and getting the job done in the clutch.”
Colton Duttweiler started the game on the mound for the Region 7-AAA champion Trojans after throwing only two innings against Pierce County (23-8), the top seed from Region 1, during his start in Game 2. The senior left-hander worked into the fourth inning of Game 3 and qualified for his 11th victory of the season, breaking the Trojans’ single-season record.
Duttweiler was relieved by Griffin Olson after issuing three walks to load the bases with only one out. Olson struck out Dakota Martin and got Kyler Allen to pop out to strand all three runners and preserve North Hall’s 7-4 lead.
Olson ran into his own trouble in the fifth, when Vince Elliott cut the lead to 7-6 with a two-run single to right-center. Kelly came on in relief and delivered only one pitch to catcher Stephen Murray, who threw out Elliott trying to steal second to end the inning.
Kelly helped himself in the top of the sixth, but he wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity if not for junior shortstop and leadoff hitter Andrew Smith, who started the inning with a single and stole second. Smith reached base five times after serving a suspension in both of Tuesday’s contests.
“The mentality in the dugout stayed (good),” Smith said. “We had a high-intensity every time we got guys on — we were (always) looking to add another run to our total — and that just shows you what kind of team we are. We were just fearless the whole game.”
Smith remained stranded on the basepaths with two outs in the sixth following a pop out by Zach Mize and a ground out by Olson.
The Bears elected to intentionally walk Duttweiler, the Trojans’ cleanup hitter, and face Kelly. The same strategy worked in the fifth inning of Game 2, when Kelly grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.
Not this time.
Kelly worked a 2-0 count before blasting a high, inside fastball over the fence in left-center field to put the Trojans ahead 10-6.
“I was looking for a fastball,” said Kelly, who went 2 for 4 with a triple and four RBIs. “I was just going to swing as hard as I could.
“They did that yesterday with me — the same exact situation — and it didn’t turn out so good (for me), so I was determined today that I would actually make them pay.”
Smith reached on an error in the seventh and scored the Trojans’ final run on an infield single by Mize. Kelly, who pitched five innings of scoreless relief in Game 2 on Tuesday, retired the side in order in the bottom of the seventh to seal the win.
The Trojans out-hit the Bears 10-8.
North Hall’s momentum from a 5-4 walk-off victory in Game 2 on Tuesday seemed to carry over to the start of Game 3.
The Trojans sent 11 batters to the plate in the first inning and scored six runs, including five after there were two outs and nobody on base.
Pierce County aided the Trojans’ cause with two errors, and Preston Graham capped the inning with a three-run bloop single to left-center to boost the lead to 6-0.
Pierce County responded with three runs in the bottom of the first, after the Trojans failed to execute a double play that would have ended the inning with them still ahead 6-0. The Bears added a run in the third on an RBI double by Rod Kennedy, cutting the gap to 6-4.
Duttweiler delivered an RBI single in the fourth to boost the lead to 7-4.
Smith said the back-and-forth nature of the victory speaks to the Trojans’ resilience.
“It just shows you how strong of a team we are,” he said. “We kept fighting out there until the last inning to get the ‘W.’”
North Hall faces Region 6 champion Blessed Trinity in a doubleheader on Monday in Gainesville. Game 3, if necessary, will be played Tuesday.