For all its success this season, the North Hall baseball team will widely be considered an underdog against No. 1-ranked Blessed Trinity in the Class AAA state semifinals.
That’s just fine with senior third baseman Griffin Olson.
“We feel like all the pressure is on them because they’re supposed to be here, and they’re supposed to win the state championship,” Olson said of Blessed Trinity, a private Catholic high school located in Roswell.
“We’re just (seen as) a little public school in their way. But we feel confident we can play with anyone in the state right now.”
No. 4-ranked North Hall has proven itself time and time again while reaching the state semifinals for the first time since the school opened in 1957.
At 30-3, the Trojans boast the best record of any team in the Georgia High School Association bigger than Class A. None of their losses this season have come at Jody Davis Field, where they are scheduled to open a best-of-three series with a doubleheader against Region 6 champion Blessed Trinity (26-4) at 4:30 p.m. today in Gainesville. Game 3, if necessary, is Tuesday.
But Blessed Trinity presents a formidable challenge. The Titans enter the series riding an 11-game winning streak and have allowed only eight runs during that stretch behind senior right-hander Reed Scott, who is signed with South Carolina, and senior left-hander Brian Kehner, who posted a program-record 1.02 earned run average in 2012.
“I feel like they are very similar to us in a lot of ways, which was the same with Pierce County, but to an even greater degree now,” Trojans coach Trent Mongero said. “That’s exactly what we expect in the state semifinals: a top-notch team.
“(Scott) is one of the best pitchers in the state. He throws upper 80’s, locates very, very well and has a very good slider.”
While Mongero has three talented starting pitchers of his own, he faces a pivotal decision on how to best use them.
Although the Trojans have won more than 90 percent of their games this season with senior left-handers Preston Graham and Colton Duttweiler as their frontline starters on the mound, senior right-hander Adam Kelly’s performance in the quarterfinals has forced Mongero to at least consider altering his rotation.
Kelly struck out 10 batters with five scoreless innings of relief in Game 2, and picked up the win on the mound when the Trojans rallied for a 5-4 victory on a two-run home run by Olson in the seventh inning. Kelly came back and earned a save with 2 1/3 shutout innings in Game 3, after Pierce County cut North Hall’s early 6-0 lead to 7-6.
The dilemma Mongero faces is whether to ride the hot hand, or stick with the formula that has gotten the team this far.
For now, the coach is playing things close to the vest.
"We haven’t made a final decision yet as to what our rotation is going to be,” Mongero said.
“We’re trying to strategically weigh out what the best option will be. We’re giving serious consideration to going with the same rotation that has gotten us to this point, but once all the scouting reports come in, we’ll sit down as a staff and finish weighing out what is our best opportunity.”
Regardless of which player in on the mound, the Trojans can count on having junior Andrew Smith as their shortstop and leadoff hitter for the entire series, which was not the case in the quarterfinals. Smith was suspended for the first two games against Pierce County for his role in an altercation during the Trojans second-round series against Franklin County.
Smith’s importance in the lineup was back on display in Game 3 of the quarterfinals, when he returned to the lineup and reached base five times. North Hall won the game 11-6 after tallying seven runs in the first two games of the series combined.
“Every single player on our roster fulfills a particular role to make up the whole,” Mongero said. “The role Andrew Smith plays is one of a leadoff hitter, table setter, disturber on the bases, and that sets the tone for the entire lineup. We feel great about having everybody in the right place in the lineup (from the start of this series).”
The Trojans will also be back in a familiar routine coming off their only road playoff series of the season. Unlike in the state quarterfinals, bus rides and hotels will not be part of the equation.
“We went down there and played in a tough environment in Pierce County,” Olson said. “We didn’t know what to do with ourselves during the day (at the hotel).
“We haven’t lost at home this year, so it just makes it that much comforting going into the games.”