The seats weren’t filled with a capacity crowd of nearly 50,000, but that didn’t matter as Taber Mongero took a pitch the other way and reached first base on the way to a 6-3 North Hall win over Cartersville at Turner Field Friday.
The two squads squared off at the big league park in a rematch of the 2013 Class AAA state championship, but the stage never was too big for the Trojans (17-7, 11-3 8-AAAA).
“I think the first thing that hit me today is that this is just a baseball field,” North Hall coach Trent Mongero said. “You take away the stands, it’s just a field just like at North Hall. I think the guys figured that out real fast during infield/outfield. I didn’t feel any nervousness from the team. I thought they played confident.”
Regardless of any pressure felt by either team, it was a special event and started out much that way.
For the Trojans, coach Mongero’s father, Richard, who’s had two different open-heart surgeries - one of which was last year - tossed out the ceremonial ball.
From Cartersville (14-10, 10-2 7-AAAA), a young girl threw out the first pitch for the Hurricanes in honor of another young Cartersville fan who was unable to be at the game due to a her fight with cancer.
“When we walked in the park, they asked if we wanted somebody to throw out the first pitch,” coach Mongero said. “It was my dad’s dream to be able to see me play here. He got to watch his grandson play shortstop here today. I thought it was fitting. It was a really special moment for our family.”
Once the game was underway, Taber Mongero led off with a single to left field and Drew Atha followed up two batters later with a one-out single.
Sophomore Reese Olson got the start pitching for North Hall.
“I had to get used to the stadium,” Olson said. “I got used to it after the first batter, but it took me a little bit to get used to it.”
Olson said there were a few nerves there when he stepped up on that mound for the first time, but he was able to get those out early.
“Reese is arguably our No. 1, he and (Corban) Meeler,” coach Mongero said. “This wasn’t too big for him.”
North Hall put the game away in the sixth inning, scoring three runs. Fowler Brooks connected on a two-run double, and Jackson Latty followed with a run-scoring double.
An RBI groundout in the bottom of the first inning put Cartersville up 1-0 in the contest, but it wouldn’t last long.
Brooks drove in John Mark Montgomery with a single and Atha was able to score on a passed ball for a 2-1 lead in the top of the second.
Neither team added another run until the fourth inning when the Hurricanes tied things up on an attempted sacrifice bunt with a runner on first. An error on the throw to first base resulted in a run scoring and a runner at third with one out.
Cartersville was able to get another runner on with a walk before the Trojans turned an unconventional double play.
First baseman Jackson Latty fielded the ground ball and fired to shortstop Taber Mongero for the out at second base.
Mongero fired back to pitcher Meeler for the final out of the inning at first base, with Meeler making a near-split stretch to cleanly catch the ball and get the out.
Mongero later tweeted, mentioning Meeler and Latty, and said, “We will never turn a better double play.”
As the game turned to the top of the fifth, the Trojans loaded the bases with no outs.
They were only able to get one run across - Atha scored on a sacrifice fly from Charlie Erickson to take the lead at 3-2.
In the seventh, Atha came in to close things down and did just that. The senior faced three batters, forcing a fly out from the first and striking out the next two.
“Once I got on the mound, I knew it was over,” Atha said. “I could just feel it in the good ole, trusty right arm.”
Overall, the Trojans ended up with 10 hits in the game, using seven different pitchers and rotated in all of the rostered players.
“It’s just a great team win,” Olson said. “We all got to play, we all got to experience it. It was a great time.”
Atha said he was excited when he first heard they were going to get to play at Turner Field because he missed playing at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville last season due to injury.
“It was awesome,” he said. “It’s just crazy when you step out on the field and you look around. I couldn’t imagine when the stands are full the amount of pressure that’s on you.”
Despite the stage they were on, Atha said you just have to take it as another stadium.
“There was a different feeling, but baseball is about being calm,” Atha said. “You can’t get amped up just because you’re in a different stadium.”
Coach Mongero said he wouldn’t have been able to write up the day any better.
“For my players, I couldn’t be more thrilled for them,” he said. “We got everybody in the game. We played well, we played a quality opponent and I couldn’t have written it better in a script.”