CLEVELAND — For five innings of North Hall’s contest against White County on Wednesday, it wasn’t a question of when, but if either pitcher would break.
In a game in which both pitchers went the distance, neither allowed the opposing offense any breathing room, scattering a handful of hits and taking a scoreless game into the sixth.
When the dust had settled, however, it was Trojans starter Preston Graham who had shined just a little brighter.
The junior left-hander tossed a complete-game, four-hit shutout, outdueling White County’s Spencer Adams for a 2-0 victory.
“Both pitchers pitched extremely well tonight,” North Hall coach Trent Mongero said. “We tip our hats to those guys as well. That’s a tough baseball team.”
With the victory, North Hall (8-3, 5-0 Region 8-AAA North) solidified its lead in the subregion, while White County (7-4, 1-4) took another step in the wrong direction.
Graham was stellar from the outset. He walked one batter in the first inning, but retired the next seven to run a no-hitter into the fourth inning before giving up a lead-off single to designated hitter Kevin Alexander.
Even when a runner got on base, however, Graham helped his own cause by picking Alexander off for the first out of the inning. The out proved to be big as the next two batters, Brett Westmoreland and Montana Saine, walked and singled, respectively. As it was, Graham induced a ground ball for a fielder’s choice and then a popout to end the threat.
It was his defense that helped him out in the next frame.
Adams led off with a single and right fielder Will Flowers sacrificed him to second with one out in the inning. After a popout resulted in the second out, third baseman Andrew Smith flashed some leather to prevent any damage. Diving to his left on a sharp grounder in the hole, Smith threw to first base ahead of the runner for the third out of the inning.
The defense stepped up in the bottom of the seventh as well, recording a double-play to close out the game and preserve the win.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my defense,” Graham said. “They’re behind me 100 percent, especially that double-play to close it.
“Can’t forget Andrew’s play at third, either. I love to see someone getting dirty behind me.”
The win was Graham’s fourth of the year. It was also his second complete game, the first coming in a 2-1 win over North Forsyth in the season-opener.
The North Hall offense had just about as much trouble with Adams as the Warriors had with Graham.
Adams got into minor trouble early when, after recording the first two outs of the first inning, shortstop Jesse Strickland and first baseman Griffin Olson hit back-to-back singles. Adams recorded a strikeout on the next batter to end the threat, however, and found his groove for the next four innings.
He set the Trojans down in order in both the second and third innings, striking out three of the six batters, and avoided trouble when he walked one in each of the fourth and fifth innings.
It wasn’t until the top of the sixth that the Trojans were finally able to break through against the sophomore.
Second baseman Zach Mize led off the inning with a bunt single. An errant throw on the play allowed Mize to advance to second, and then a passed ball immediately following moved him around to third with nobody out.
Strickland came through with a sharp single to bring home the game’s first run. Three batters later, Wade Phillips dropped a bloop single just out of reach of diving shortstop Dylan Lee in shallow left field to bring home Strickland and give North Hall a precarious 2-0 lead.
“I felt like we had to get on base somehow, so we dropped a couple of bunts down and got a couple clutch hits,” Mongero said. “We’re very fortunate. White County is an excellent team.”
Strickland finished 2 for 4 with an RBI, while Wade Phillips was 1 for 3 with an RBI for North Hall.
Despite picking up the loss, Adams’ line in the game was nearly as impressive as Graham’s. In seven innings, he allowed seven hits and two runs, one earned, while striking out four.
“He’s been pulling some tough games this year,” White County coach John Brown said. “We just haven’t been scoring enough runs for him.
“It’s hard to win when you don’t score any runs.”
After losing the vast majority of a starting lineup that contributed to a region championship last year, Brown said that his team is still growing, but isn’t where it needs to be yet.
“We haven’t been a very good hitting team,” he said. “We’re not quite there yet.”
The Warriors get their next shot Friday at Johnson. North Hall plays at Oconee County on Friday.