North Hall vs. Cartersville
When: 5 p.m. Saturday, gates open at 3 p.m.
Where: Jody Davis Field, Gainesville
Tickets: $7 per day
As North Hall pitcher Preston Graham puts it, now’s the time to seize the moment. His Trojans teammates — and their fan base for that matter — would wholeheartedly agree.
“There’s no words to describe how good it feels to be playing for the state title,” Graham said. “We’ve all worked so hard to get where we are.”
Today, North Hall (32-4) begins the final leg of its pursuit for the program’s first state title with a doubleheader at 5 p.m. against Cartersville (28-7) in best-of-three series championship series at Jody Davis Field. Gates open at 3 p.m.
Should they split the first two games, the deciding third game will be played at 5 p.m. Monday in Gainesville.
The Purple Hurricanes are no strangers to playing late in May. Cartersville won its last state title in 2009, with state championships also coming in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2008.
However, North Hall’s players aren’t too concerned about the tradition of the squad in the other dugout, even though it is impressive. The Trojans knocked off top-ranked Blessed Trinity in the semifinal round, and took down 2012 Class AA state finalist Pierce County in three games in the quarterfinals. The first two rounds of the playoffs for the Trojans were blowout two-game sweeps of Decatur and Franklin County in Gainesville.
To qualify for the championship round, Cartersville swept St. Pius X in two games earlier this week.
Today’s series marks the first time that a North Hall program has played for a state title on the school’s campus.
Players know that it will also bring an overflow crowd to Jody Davis Field. The Trojans baseball squad is looking to becoming the second team in school history to win a state championship, joining the 2007 boys cross country squad.
“This is probably going to be the biggest game(s) in school history,” North Hall shortstop Andrew Smith said. “We’ve had a great season so far, but we’re not satisfied yet.”
The key to the Trojans success has superb pitching from its two leading starters, consistent hitting throughout the order and great defensive play with only 45 errors combined in 36 games.
North Hall’s pitching staff is led by left-hander Preston Graham (12-2, 1.28 ERA), who has three complete-game shutouts in the postseason with a win in relief against Blessed Trinity, and fellow lefty Colton Duttweiler with an 11-1 mark and a 1.21 ERA.
Trojans coach Trent Mongero says Graham will again pitch Game 1, while Game 2 will be either Duttweiler or right-hander Adam Kelly (7-1, 1.23).
“We’re going to see how it plays out in Game 1 before we decide who throws in Game 2,” Mongero said. “We have lots of confidence in both Adam and Dutty (Duttweiler).”
At the plate, Smith (.440, 26 RBIs), Zach Mize (.408, 18 RBIs), Duttweiler (.431, 40 RBIs) and Griffin Olson (.467, 41 RBIs) are all hitting above the .400 mark.
Even though North Hall only has a combined nine home runs this season, Olson had a walk-off home run in Game 2 of the quarterfinals, Kelly had a three-run shot in Game 3 against Pierce County and Stephen Murray had a two-run homer to give a cushion in Game 3 of the semifinals against the Titans.
For Cartersville, Georgia Tech signee Connor Justus sets the table from the lead-off spot in the batting order with a .500 batting average and an on-base percentage above .600, says Purple Hurricanes coach Stuart Chester. Justus is a four-year starter at shortstop.
Cartersville’s top pitcher is senior right-hander Hayes Linn with a 12-1 mark, and a .400-hitting center fielder when he’s not on the mound. Linn is signed to play football next year at Air Force.
“Cartersville is a very solid squad with exceptional power,” Mongero said. “They have a great squad and it’s what you would expect to see in a championship series.”