FAYETTEVILLE — The second-longest playoff run in North Hall baseball history came to an end at the hands of a team steeped in recent postseason success.
Whitewater came back for an 8-2 victory in the opener of the teams’ Class AAAA quarterfinal series Tuesday, then closed out the night with a 10-1 win. The Wildcats (27-5), a 2014 Class AAAAA runner-up, advance to the state semifinals for the fifth time in six seasons.
“It wasn’t our night, but what a great year,” said North Hall coach Trent Mongero of his team’s second quarterfinal appearance in three years. “Nobody ever expected us to be here.”
A nine-man senior class led the Trojans (21-10), putting in the hard work ever since eighth grade.
“They bought in,” Mongero said. “They committed, and they’ve grown up so much as men and ballplayers.”
North Hall had a scare in the opener when senior right fielder Matthew Cox was hit by a pitch in the spine right below his helmet. Play was stopped for about 20 minutes as he lay in the batter’s box being given medical attention before he was taken to the hospital. Scans on Cox came back negative, and he was able to be in the post-series huddle and hug teammates at night’s end.
“He’s been a huge catalyst for us all year in that nine-hole, plays a great right field,” Mongero said. “It was a hurdle we had to overcome and we certainly missed Matthew, but we’re glad he’s going to be OK.”
Wildcats pitchers struck out a combined 24 Trojans in the two contests, including 13 in the nightcap.
Georgia Tech signee Jake Lee struck out 11 in the opener while allowing two unearned runs on three hits and no walks in a complete game.
Ethan Gillis added 11 strikeouts in five innings in the second game, compared with two hits and no walks.
GAME 2: WHITEWATER 10, NORTH HALL 1: The Wildcats scored two runs apiece in the first and fourth innings for a 4-0 edge.
But Whitewater really sealed things up with a six-run sixth inning, highlighted by a Miles Jones grand slam. J.D. Norred pitched in an RBI single in the outburst.
Mongero said he couldn’t fully understand his team’s struggles against Gillis, a lefthander, after the good pitching his team has seen all year.
“I kept asking everybody, ‘What’s going on?’” Mongero said. “I hadn’t seen that many guys miss balls completely. You’ve got to tip your hat to them. They certainly are quality guys, but not anybody that should shut us down to the level they did.”
The Trojans managed one hit in the first four innings. While they totaled three hits and put five runners in scoring position over the final three innings, they could only muster the single run while stranding four of those runners.
North Hall starter Drew Atha took the loss, going 3 1/3 innings and allowing four earned runs on seven hits and a walk with one strikeout.
Micah Strickland had two doubles for the Trojans.
Pinch hitter Jake Chester walked, moved over on Strickland’s double and scored on a Lincoln Hewett sacrifice fly in the sixth for North Hall’s lone run.
GAME 1: WHITEWATER 8, NORTH HALL 2: The Trojans took advantage of Wildcats errors to take a 2-0 lead in the top of the fourth.
The first came when Dylan Lavender, the pinch runner for Cox in the top of the third, moved to second on a groundout and scored from there on an infield error.
Then Corbin Lewallen reached on an error and scored on a Fowler Brooks double in the fourth.
In the bottom of the fourth, Brandon Bell’s two-run homer tied it up for Whitewater and switched the series’ momentum for good.
Whitewater took the lead with a four-run fifth, highlighted by a two-run triple by Norred, a two-run single from Bell and a double by Jared Gresham.
Lewallen allowed six earned runs in five innings on seven hits and three walks with two strikeouts to take the loss.