Even when Madison County saw glimpses of success against Corbin Lewallen at the plate, the North Hall left-hander continued to torment the Red Raiders once they reached the basepaths.
Lewallen struck out seven batters and picked off three runners Thursday during a complete-game performance that led the Trojans to a 2-1 victory over the Red Raiders in the Region 8-AAAA opener at Jody Davis Field. The North Hall ace gave up one earned run on three hits and walked one batter as he outdueled fellow southpaw Dylan Gentry, who gave up two earned runs on four hits and struck out six in five-plus innings of work.
“I didn’t have my best stuff, but the guys behind me had my back,” Lewallen said.
“(Madison County) hit some hard ground balls and they were there just making plays for me and had my back, so that made it a lot easier. And the pickoffs helped a lot, being able to pick three guys off is always a plus.”
The Trojans (7-3, 1-0 Region 8-AAAA) supported him by manufacturing both of their runs, including the one that broke a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Matthew Cox reached base on a leadoff infield single and stole second despite nearly getting caught in a rundown. He later stole third with nobody out, but the scoring opportunity began to slip away after leadoff hitter Taber Mongero (2 for 3, run, 2 stolen bases) struck out and No. 2 hitter Micah Strickland fell into a two-strike count.
Strickland fought off several pitches before lining a sacrifice fly to right field.
“Huge at-bat from Micah,” North Hall coach Trent Mongero said.
“We preach two-strike approach, survival at the plate, get it in play and make something happen, and we were able to get that sac fly and it ended up being the difference in the game. ... You’ve got to take advantage of opportunities, and we were able to take advantage of one more than they were tonight.”
Lewallen did the rest. The senior retired 15 of the last 17 batters he faced after surrendering all three of the hits he allowed during the first two innings.
The only two batters who reached base against him after the second inning got aboard courtesy of a fifth-inning walk and an error that put the tying run on first with two outs in the seventh. Lewallen avoided any further danger by getting Sam Carey to hit a harmless grounder back to the mound to end the game.
“I felt like Corbin didn’t necessarily have his best stuff as far as command, but he was around the zone enough to compete,” Mongero said. “We expect that from him every time he goes out there, being our number one, but he was able to get himself out of a couple jams with some pickoffs, about an inning’s worth, three outs. He’s a battler, so he was able to keep them to one run and give us a chance to win the ballgame.”
North Hall jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Taber Mongero scored on a double play ground out off the bat of Lincoln Hewett. Mongero led off the inning with a single, stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch.
Madison County (7-4, 0-1) answered in the top of the second, after Gentry helped himself with a leadoff double. A one-out single moved the runner to third and set up a sac fly to deep left by Noah Rogers.
Lewallen was simply happy to be available to pitch the region opener, after missing the opportunity in 2014 due to an injury.
“I’m healthy again, so it was just great to be out here for the beginning of the season,” he said. “It killed me having to watch last year, but it was just a great feeling to be out there.”
North Hall is scheduled to face Pickens in a non-region contest at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Trojans will face Madison County again at 5:55 p.m. Monday in Danielsville.
“It’s always good to get off to a winning start in the region,” Trent Mongero said. “(Madison County is) a quality ball club, no doubt, very well coached and very solid all the way around. We’re expecting a dogfight again on Monday.”