State baseball playoffs
Class AAAA: Gainesville vs. Whitewater, 4 p.m. today, Ivey-Watson Field
Class AAA: North Hall at Pierce County, 4:30 p.m. today, Blackshear
North Hall and Gainesville both have a number of things in common, such as strong pitching, exemplary senior leadership and playoff experience. But while the Red Elephants are appearing in the state quarterfinals for the second consecutive year, the Trojans are making their first-ever appearance in the third round.
Gainesville faces Whitewater, the No. 3 seed from Region 4-AAAAA, at 4 today in Gainesville in a quarterfinal doubleheader. North Hall takes on Pierce County, last year’s Class AA state runner-up, in a Class AAA best-of-three, third-round playoff series at 4:30 p.m. today in Blackshear.
Although the team had to make the five-hour trek to South Georgia, North Hall coach Trent Mongero noted that travel is not necessarily a factor for his team.
“We’re not really concerned with the distance,” Mongero said. “We broke (Monday) up and stopped at Perry High (in Middle Georgia) and had practice there.”
Mongero said his team is familiar with long bus rides for games, and he mentioned that many of his players had been in the situation before.
“All of these guys were on the team two years ago when we had to travel to LaGrange and Cartersville,” Mongero said. “Then it went three games. It was a tough series, so these guys are mentally tough. We’re just going to go down and play ball.”
North Hall, though the team has not faced Pierce County, is familiar with the team since the Bears are a “mirror image” of this season’s North Hall team.
“They have five seniors just like us. They pitch well, they play good defense, and they put pressure on their opponents and that’s what we like to do,” Mongero said.
The similar style of play between the two teams can work in North Hall’s favor, especially due to the senior leadership, Mongero said.
“We understand what to look for because any time you have a certain style of play you know what to look for from your opponent,” Mongero said. “We just have to go do what we do well.”
Along with the leadership on the team, Mongero emphasized that pitching would be one of the team’s strengths. So far in the postseason, North Hall’s No. 1 starter Preston Graham has hurled two completed-game shutouts, and Game 2 starter Colton Duttweiler is coming off six scoreless innings pitched in an 8-0 win to close out its second-round series sweep of Franklin County.
“Having two quality left-handers as well as a quality right-hander can slow down their attack,” Mongero said of his starting pitchers. “These guys have set high goals, and we’re going to go compete.”
One missing piece from the Trojans strong lineup, however, will be shortstop and lead-off hitter Andrew Smith, who is serving a two-game suspension due to an altercation in last week’s series against Franklin County. Mongero feels that his team can deal with the adversity well though.
“We feel like we have a deep team,” he said. “Numerous guys have gotten playing experience on varsity, so we just have to adjust.”
While the Trojans must play a quarterfinal series under less-than-ideal conditions, the Red Elephants are armed with experience and a pair of exemplary pitchers that have helped them succeed all season, especially at home.
Brothers Michael and Jonathan Gettys will get the starts in the first two games of the series for Gainesville, but head coach Jeremy Kemp emphasized that keeping pitch count low would be key for both players.
In the second round, No. 1 starter Michael needed only 52 pitches to beat Creekview, while his younger brother Jonathan used 81 pitches in Game 2 to complete the series sweep in Game 2.
“We’ve got another year of experience under our belt,” Kemp said. “But Whitewater has upset the opponent twice in the playoffs, so we know they’ll come in and play hard.”
Bottom line: Making it to this stage of the postseason is special for any program.
“Any time you can make it to the Elite 8, you know you’ve done something right,” Kemp said.