Dominant pitching from North Hall’s starters Corbin Lewallen in the opener and by Brandon Delong in the second game was more than enough to provide for two painless 8-1 and 11-0 wins against Sonoraville to open the Class AAA state tournament Friday in the best-of-three series at Jody Davis Field.
Add to that the fact the Trojans (20-8) hit aggressively from top to bottom in the order, their coach Trent Mongero was left feeling it was about the best the team has played as a whole all season.
And no better time to put it all together than the postseason.
“I’m very proud of how we played tonight,” Mongero said. “Sonoraville was a quality opponent, a team that beat (defending state champ) Cartersville twice in the regular season, so it was a huge statement for our program.”
With the sweep, North Hall advances to face Blessed Trinity, a rematch of the quarterfinal round from 2013, in another best-of-three series starting Wednesday in Roswell. The Titans advanced past the first-round with a two-game sweep of Jackson County on Friday.
North Hall senior shortstop Andrew Smith had every bit of faith its program could produce in the postseason, even with so many key players from last year’s state finalists no longer in the program.
“The beginning of the year, no one thought that North Hall baseball would be where we are now, but we never stopped believing in what we could do as a team,” said Smith, who knocked a two-run homer in each game. “It was a complete effort all around, everyone in our lineup was hitting the ball.
“We had Taber Mongero hit the ball great in the No. 9 spot with five hits.”
In Game 1, Lewallen set the tone by striking out six batters and allowing only four hits, even though he said afterward it was less-than-perfect control of the strike zone.
The Trojans’ left-hander got out of a jam with Phoenix runners on the corners in the second inning without allowing a run, then allowed the only run of the night after Sonoraville had a pair of runners in scoring position in the top of the sixth inning before the first out was recorded.
However, by that point late in the game, it was already firmly under control. In the bottom of the third inning with North Hall runners at second and third, Micah Strickland launched a three-run home run to break the game open, followed by his RBI double in the fifth inning that scored McCoy Savage after a stand-up double to start the inning.
In the nightcap, Strickland cleared the bases with a three-run double in the third inning. He finished the day with seven RBIs.
Meanwhile, Savage had a double, four singles and reached in six plate appearances. From the bottom spot in the order for the Trojans, Taber Mongero singled in his first five plate appearances, scored on both of Smith’s home runs at the top of the order and reached base in all six plate appearances.
In the fourth inning of the first game, Smith was robbed of a run-scoring extra-base hit after Sonoraville’s center fielder made a fully-extended diving catch.
NORTH HALL 11, SONORAVILLE 0: Delong pitched like a seasoned starter in Game 2, when in actuality he never made the baseball team until his senior season.
Throwing in the nightcap, the right-hander stayed ahead in the count all five innings and allowed only three hits, while striking out six for a complete-game shutout.
And if he keeps throwing like this, North Hall’s coach will happily keep handing him the ball the rest of the way in the postseason.
After Sonoraville’s Hayden Bunch singled to put two on base with no outs in the bottom of the third inning, Delong (6-0 on the season) proceeded to retire the top three hitters in the Phoenix’s batting order to get out of the inning without allowing a scratch.
“Brandon amazes me more and more every time he pitches,” said coach Mongero. “He’s handled all the pressure so well.”
“Brandon did amazing throwing a shutout,” Lewallen said. “He’s shown what you can accomplish with a lot of hard work.”
Leading 4-0 in the visitor’s portion of the fourth, the Trojans put the game out of reach after loading the bases on Smith’s hard-hit infield single to third.
Savage followed with an RBI single, Lincoln Hewett walked to drive in another run, and catcher Stephen Murray, who was hit in the helmet with a pitch the previous inning, came back to drive a three-run double on a 2-2 count with two outs right down the third-base line.
Smith’s two-run homer in the fifth inning traveled high over the left-field fence.
The Trojans finished the game with two three-run doubles and three multi-run homers. None of Sonoraville’s hitters had more than one hit on the night.
Game time for North Hall’s second-round series is still to be determined.