As the North Hall baseball team boarded the bus April 21 following a loss at Dawson County — its sixth defeat in the previous seven games — to close the regular season, coach Trent Mongero delivered a strangely optimistic message to his players.
“‘You guys just watch what a story we’re going to have,’” Mongero told his team.
In the four weeks since then, the Trojans have penned quite the tale.
North Hall swept Calhoun with wins of 10-1 and 3-0 Wednesday night at Jody Davis Field in Gainesville to advance to the Class 3A state championship series. After the Trojans’ late-season slump appeared to linger with a Game 1 loss in their first-round series at Pace Academy, they’ve ripped off eight straight wins in a turnaround even they struggle to believe.
“I feel like I’m in a dream,” Mongero said amid a swarm of joyous fans. “Who would have said on the final day of the season that North Hall would be playing for a state championship?”
Yet that will indeed be the case next week when third-seeded North Hall (27-11) takes on No. 1 seed Pierce County for the state title. The GHSA has not yet announced specific times, dates or locations for the state championship series across its eight classifications, but the teams will play a doubleheader either Wednesday or Thursday in either Rome or Savannah.
The location that mattered most Wednesday night was Jody Davis Field, where the Trojans returned after spending the first three rounds of the playoffs on the road.
Theirs fans took full advantage of that, packing the park to the point where dozens were forced to stand and several others watched from the hills surrounding the outfield wall.
“It was absolutely amazing,” senior pitcher Corban Meeler said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better as a way to go out here. We thought we probably wouldn’t have a chance to come home in the playoffs, but we got a big boost with our fans and family here.”
Meeler and junior Reese Olson produced complete games on the mound for North Hall, performances Mongero called two of the best he has seen this season. A Trojans offense that nearly enacted the mercy rule in Game 1 was quieted in the nightcap, but crisp defense behind their aces paved the way for a sweep that was rarely in doubt.
Jackson Latty and Charlie Erickson both drove in three runs apiece in the opener and helped North Hall take a 2-0 lead after the first inning. That fast start sparked a 12-hit performance against fourth-seeded Calhoun (23-15) in Game 1.
“Any time you score in the first inning, it’s a big help,” Mongero said. “We hadn’t been doing that much lately, but today we built on that momentum in the first game.”
Taber Mongero went 3 for 4 with an RBI in Game 1, Olson drove in a run of his own and Drew Hubbard plated a pair in the fourth inning that put the Trojans in position for the mercy rule.
But after Olson pitched four perfect innings, the Yellow Jackets struck for their lone run of the night in the fifth. Though North Hall didn’t generate a game-clinching run in the following two innings, Olson settled in to retire six of the final seven batters he faced in a three-hit performance.
Meeler picked up right where his counterpart left off, surrendering just two hits while striking out six. Olson and John Mark Montgomery each recorded an RBI as the Trojans manufactured one run in each of the first three innings, and Meeler ran into trouble only once during his outing.
The infield met for a mound visit after Meeler issued two straight free passes to batters, a meeting Trent Mongero said was meant to get the pitcher settled down and refocused.
The right-hander promptly induced a grounder that resulted in a 4-6-3 double play, and he let out a roar while trotting back to the dugout with his team’s tenuous lead intact.
“That double play gave me the confidence in my defense,” Meeler said. “I just have to do my job, and the defense will make those kind of plays behind me.”
An even more emotional moment came when Meeler produced a swinging strikeout for the final out of the game. Trent Mongero was the first out of the dugout to embrace the senior, and the rest of his teammates soon came flooding out to celebrate their unexpected accomplishment.
“It was such a great feeling, with coach running out and being the first one to hug me,” Meeler said with a smile.
North Hall’s magical season continued as the expense of Calhoun’s.
The Yellow Jackets squeaked into the playoffs as the bottom seed from their region but caught fire after upsetting No. 1 seed Morgan County in the first round. Their run to the semifinals was just as surprising as North Hall’s, but it was the Trojans who punched their ticket to their first state championship appearance since 2013 and second in school history.
However, Trent Mongero said this season feels much different from his team’s previous state championship surge.
For starters, North Hall lost only six games in 2013 and was a heavy favorite to make the finals, while this year’s squad had to overcome two top-seeded foes on the road to reach the finals.
All this didn’t seem possible a month ago on the heels of that seemingly crushing loss at Dawson County.
“From then until now,” Trent Mongero said, "what a story we’ve fulfilled.”