North Hall's Preston Graham saved his best for last.
Staked to a commanding 7-0 lead, the sophomore southpaw struck out the side in the top of the seventh to secure a win against Chestatee on Monday at Jody Davis Field.
"I started to get command of my off-speed pitches," said Graham, who struck out eight and gave up only three hits in the complete-game win. "It felt good to end the game on a strikeout."
It was especially rewarding because it appeared as if Graham might not finish the game. After North Hall (7-2, 5-1 Region 8-AAA) scored four runs in the bottom of the fourth to build the 7-0 lead, Graham accidently had his right foot stepped on when covering first base on a ground ball to start the inning. In obvious pain, he immediately crouched behind the back of the mound and awaited the coaches and medical staff. After a brief chat and a couple warm-up throws, Graham was back on the mound and pitching better than he did before.
"It didn't feel good, but I wasn't coming out," Graham said. "I just wanted to get back and finish strong."
He certainly did, as he struck out six of the last nine batters he faced. Not too bad for a 15-year-old dealing with the pressure of being a starter on a team tied for first place in the region.
"I take the pressure and use it as an advantage," said Graham, who also hit a double to start the four-run fourth. "Now I have to step up and be more of a leader."
Graham felt little pressure Monday, especially after Mason Savage's two-out, two-run single gave the Trojans a 3-0 lead after the first inning.
North Hall had another two-out rally in the fourth, scoring four runs on three hits, including an RBI single from Wade Phillips that stretched the lead to 6-0. Hamilton Harper, who went 1-for-3 with two runs scored, had an RBI groundout to start the scoring. North Hall's other runs were scored by Andrew Smith and Eli Gilmer and came on a balk and an error.
"The guys like to put pressure on opponents when there's two outs," North Hall coach Trent Mongero said. "When you can score with two outs, it just gives you more momentum."
Chestatee (3-7, 3-5) tried to rally in the sixth after Alex Moore started the inning with a double to center field, but Graham struck out two of the next three batters, and got another batter to pop up to strand the runner on second. Lucas Bennett, who doubled in the fourth, and Scott Chewning, who advanced to second on a walk, were the only other two War Eagles to reach scoring position. All three were left stranded on second base.
The War Eagles visit Oconee County at 5:55 p.m. Wednesday. North Hall visits
Walnut Grove, also at 5:55 p.m. Wednesday.