North Hall fed off the production of senior pitcher Preston Graham so far this postseason. Through two rounds, Graham has posted two complete-game shutouts.
And on Wednesday, the left-hander smacked a two-run home run to go with his pitching gem in Game 1 for a two-game sweep of Franklin County in the second round of the Class AAA tournament at Jody Davis Field.
Behind Graham’s sterling pitching performance where he only allowed three hits in Game 1, the Trojans won 10-0 in six innings. Colton Duttweiler pitching six shutout innings in Game 2 for North Hall and an 8-0 victory.
With the series sweep, North Hall has secured its first appearance in the state quarterfinals in school history. The Trojans face Pierce County (24-6), who swept Swainsboro High in the second round, in another best-of-three series starting Tuesday in Blackshear.
“This is a pretty awesome feeling,” said Graham, who also scored on a single in Game 1. “I know all the hard work we’ve put in and all the hours we’ve worked to get better.”
To go along with two great efforts from North Hall’s starting pitchers, the team piled up 28 total hits between the two games. Griffin Olson had three infield singles in Game 2, along with two hits and a walk in the day’s first game. Andrew Smith had three hits on the night, and Lincoln Hewett had three hits in Game 2 and reached in all four plate appearances for North Hall.
“This is a great feeling making it to the quarterfinals for the first time in school history,” said Olson, who produced the first of four consecutive sixth-inning RBI singles to close it out. “We know as a team we’ve worked so hard to achieve our goals this season.”
Graham set the tone in Game 1 for North Hall by the way he pitched around jams. In the third, he induced a double play with a runner at first, then picked off runners from first for the final out in the third and fourth innings.
After Franklin County’s Brady Roane and Jesse Thomas reached in the sixth inning and moved into scoring position with only one out, Graham made an excellent play on a bouncing ball back to the mound. North Hall’s pitcher fielded the ball, looked the lead runner back to third and fired to first base for the second out of the inning.
Graham retired the final out of the inning on a fly ball to preserve the shutout.
“I felt that Preston didn’t have his best stuff tonight, but he kept competing,” North Hall coach Trent Mongero said. “I thought we played very good defense all night.”
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Graham turned around and smacked a two-run homer on the first pitch. After Smith and Zach Mize singled, Olson, Duttweiler, Hewett and Stephen Murray roped RBI singles. Hewett scored on a pass ball to bring the game to an end on the mercy rule.
Mize started the scoring for North Hall in the second inning with a sharply-hit, two-run single right up the middle, scoring McCoy Savage and courtesy runner Micah Strickland.
Adam Kelly also had a pair of hits in Game 1 for the Trojans.
NORTH HALL 8, FRANKLIN COUNTY 0: In Game 2, the Trojans broke the game open in the third inning with RBI singles from Olson, Duttweiler and Hewett. Then in the fourth inning, Mize and Olson each had singles that drove home a run.
On the mound, the left-handed Duttweiler was able to pick off a pair of runners to stymie the Lions’ scoring opportunities. He finished the game allowing just four hits with one strikeout in his time on the mound.
In the fifth inning, North Hall’s Smith was ejected for his role in an incident when a Franklin County player slid and was forced out at second base. After the play ended, Mongero said umpires explained he was kicked out of the game for “bowing up” to the other player. Two Franklin County players were also ejected, one for throwing a punch at Smith, and the game was stopped for approximately 30 minutes.
According to Mongero, Georgia High School rules say any player suspended is forced to sit the next two games, but he plans to immediately appeal the decision in hopes of having his lead-off hitter and shortstop on the field for Tuesday’s quarterfinal doubleheader.
Pierce County is playing in Class AAA this season for the first time after losing in the Class AA championship series in 2012. Game time is still to be determined.