When the final game of the best-of-three series was over Saturday, North Hall sophomore Andrew Smith said, simply, “he had our number.”
Allatoona senior and No. 3 pitcher Michael Royal took the mound at Jody Davis Field in Gainesville on Saturday, a day after his walk-off home run in Game 2 kept the Buccaneers alive.
In the tiebreaker he allowed two runs and escaped nearly unscathed from three bases-loaded jams in a complete-game, 6-2 win to stop North Hall one game shy of the second round of the state playoffs.
Allatoona (21-8) will travel in the second round to Crisp County (27-0), one of two unbeaten teams in the state along with Gainesville.
It was a frustrating season finale for the Trojans (17-11).
“I felt like we were a hit or two away from making this a very tight ball game,” said North Hall coach Trent Mongero. “We did have some good at-bats with the bases loaded, but nothing to show for it.”
The game, the series and the season all came down to the top of the third inning, when the Buccaneers broke open a 2-1 game with four runs, all unearned, against North Hall starter Wade Phillips after a pair of fielding errors by the defense.
“We had a rough third inning defensively and we couldn’t stop the bleeding,” Mongero said. “It seems that everything we hit after that was right at them.”
The inning also spoiled what could have been something of a pitcher’s duel. North Hall junior left-hander Colton Duttweiler took over in relief in the third inning and pitched shutout ball for the final four innings, allowing no earned runs, three hits and striking out three, to keep North Hall within striking distance.
Only Royal wouldn’t break.
The hard-throwing Allatoona right-hander was one of three talented seniors to pitch in the series, which gave Buccaneers coach Keith Hansen something to lean on in a road series against a tough opponent.
“We knew going into the playoffs that we have three pitchers who’ve all signed to play in college,” he said. “So we at least knew we could throw the ball well.”
Royal allowed six hits and just one walk in the game and struck out nine. Three of the hits came from the leadoff spot in Smith, who finished 3 for 3 with a double and was hit by a pitch.
With two more years of varsity baseball ahead, the North Hall third baseman was able to put the series loss into perspective.
“It’s always good to get that playoff experience,” he said. “This experience, especially this loss, will help us get better next year.
“We’ve got a lot returning and we’re only losing one pitcher, but they’ll be hard spots to fill.”
Smith added that his frustrations about the loss were mostly that the seniors wouldn’t have a chance to continue playing. But even in the loss, the future looks bright, especially on the mound.
“All three games we pitched extremely well,” Mongero said. “It’s something we had been struggling with as of late.”
The only problem for the North Hall pitching was allowing the leadoff man to reach. In five of the seven innings Allatoona put a runner on base to start the inning, and that runner scored in each of the first three innings.
Nick Hall and Austin Rogers each drove in a two-out run in the first and second innings, respectively, for Allatoona. In the second it was Royal with the leadoff double. North Hall shortstop Jesse Strickland’s run-scoring triple in the first briefly tied the game at 1-1 before Allatoona regained the lead.
The Buccaneers loaded the bases in the third on a single, a dropped third strike and a walk before third baseman Andrew Foosh hit a grounder in the infield that resulted in a pair of throwing errors by the North Hall defense on throws to the plate, resulting in two runs.
Duttweiler came on in relief with two on and still no outs. He allowed a two-run single to Marlon Melendez to score the inherited runners after getting Royal to ground out, but pitched scoreless ball the rest of the night.
Royal matched him until the sixth. He pitched out of bases-loaded, two-out jams in both the second and fourth innings and went 1-2-3 in three more innings, including striking out the side in the sixth.
North Hall mounted a serious challenge in the seventh, loading the bases with one out for junior Griffin Olson, who drove in the game’s final run on a sacrifice fly.