The North Hall baseball team opened and closed the door on the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs Friday night with 5-3 and 10-1 victories over Carrollton in Gainesville.
The Trojans (20-8) will play the winner between top-ranked Locust Grove and Crisp County, which split the opening doubleheader of their series Friday. The second-round matchup will be played on Wednesday.
North Hall used a big sixth inning in Game 2 to seal the series victory, scoring eight runs on five hits, two errors and two walks.
“It all started with the infield hit,” Carrollton coach Ryan Zaideman said of the long sixth. “That double was big. We had some passed balls and it unraveled from there.”
The double Zaideman referred to was an RBI, pinch-hit double from Charlie Erickson. The play originally scored two — courtesy runner Dylan Lavender and Jake Chester — but an interference call on the play resulted in Chester being called back to third base. Chester would score one batter later on a single from Clark Hill.
Senior center fielder Drew Atha and Lavender scored the other two runs for North Hall in the 10-1 win.
Corban Meeler tossed the second game for North Hall, delivering a complete-game performance. Meeler gave up one run — a fifth-inning solo shot to starting pitcher Mitch McClendon — on seven hits and a walk. Meeler struck out 11 Carrollton batters.
“He really settled in and pitched himself out of jams with some key strikeouts,” said coach Trent Mongero. “Toward the end, he was almost untouchable.”
Meeler had himself in tough situations early.
In the first and third innings, Meeler pitched himself out of runners on second and third with less than two outs. In the sixth, Carrollton had runners on second and third with no outs, so Meeler struck out a batter. The next batter got on with a single to load the bases, so Meeler struck out the next two batters.
“Corban is capable of that,” said Mongero. “He’s got a funky little arm slot and creates run on his pitches. When he’s around the zone and throwing his off-speed pitches for a strike, he’s incredibly difficult to hit.”
North Hall leadoff batter Taber Mongero was 5 for 6 on the night with four runs scored, two stolen bases and a pair of RBIs. He also combined for six put outs, five in the first game, in the doubleheader.
“Taber was one guy of many who played exceptionally tonight,” said coach Mongero. “He’s our leadoff guy and it helps for him to get on base and he was on base all night. “He put the ball in play and made nice plays on defense.”
Taber Mongero said he feels North Hall can make a long run, seeing what they were able to do on Friday night.
“The coaches after the first game were telling us not to get content,” said Taber. “We really were focusing on playing harder than we did in the first game. We were focused. It really gives us some confidence going forward into the next round that after a long day at the field we were able to pull out two wins.”
NORTH HALL 5, CARROLLTON 3 (GAME 1): Sophomore Reese Olson tossed six strong innings for North Hall, getting himself out of trouble in four different innings where Carrollton was able to get runners in scoring position.
Olson scattered eight hits, giving up three runs and striking out five of the 28 batters he faced.
“We put the ball in Reese’s hand,” coach Mongero said. “He’s not scared a bit. He competed and did everything and more than we could have asked of him.”
Atha came in to close things down for North Hall, giving up just one base to a batter hit with a 1-1 pitch.
North Hall leadoff batter Mongero had a great night at the plate and in the field. The junior shortstop delivered a pair of singles and a double, all leadoff hits, to mark a 3 for 4 in Game 1. He also scored three of the Trojans’ five runs in the first game. In the field, Mongero had five put outs.
With the oddest stat line of the night, Atha was 0 for 0 at the plate with two RBIs and a run scored.
Designated hitter Brandon Prince and shortstop Austin Garrett led Carrollton, both going 2 for 3 in the game. Prince drove in a run and scored one himself.
Both teams ended the game with eight hits apiece.
PLAY OF THE NIGHT: In the sixth inning of Game 1, Carrollton had the bases loaded with two outs and lead-off batter Tate Fricks at the plate. Fricks hit a long fly ball to center field. Atha, playing his usual position of center field, was playing shallow and immediately went back on the ball. The senior made the play as he slammed into the wall in center field.
The catch preserved a 5-3 lead, the eventual final score. Coach Mongero said the catch was “one of the best high school catches I’ve seen in 24 years.”
“It was huge,” said Mongero. “To me, that was the statement because if he misses that ball, they score two, probably three. They’re probably up by one with all the momentum in the world.
“Drew, as fearless as he is, makes an over-the-shoulder, Willie Mays, run-into-the-wall catch. I hope people realize how big is was. It really closed the door. We were able to carry that momentum into the second game.”