With runners on first and second and two outs in the top of the seventh, Buford’s Dillon Satterfield stood at the plate representing the game-tying run. Meanwhile, North Hall’s senior pitcher Preston Graham did what he did all game long for the Trojans when faced with adversity; he stepped back, made a good pitch to get himself, and ultimately his team, out of a jam.
Satterfield sent Graham’s final pitch of the game to shallow center field where North Hall’s Adam Kelly came through with a diving catch, saving runs from scoring and secured a 4-1 victory on Saturday at Jody Davis Field
Kelly was not the only North Hall (21-2, 17-1 Region 7-AAA) defensive player to make the highlight reel.
North Hall also played error-free baseball to take the final one of the three-game season series against Buford and also creep closer to the Region 7-AAA title.
One of the most impressive defensive plays for North Hall came by way of second baseman Zach Mize in the fifth with no outs and runners on first and second.
Leading 3-0, Mize fielded a ground ball that caught the lip of the infield and adjusted his body during his dive to the right and kept a run from scoring.
“I knew I could get to it, but I had to come in on it and not sit back,” Mize said. “I’ve fielded a lot of balls out here during practice and thought it might bounce up like that.”
North Hall coach Trent Mongero knew his defender would get to the ball. It was then just a matter of getting his glove around the ball.
“He’s one of our senior leaders and has fielded thousands of balls out here during practice and on his own time,” Mongero said.
After that impressive defensive save, the ensuing two outs were sharp grounders: one down the first base line handled by Colton Duttweiler and another to Mize to keep Buford at bay.
Mongero said the team defense is what he was most proud of.
“When the game was over, I could point at every starter and tell them about a defensive stop they made,” Mongero said. “It was complete team defense.”
North Hall scored two runs in the first inning with two-out RBI singles from left fielder Lincoln Hewett and the center fielder Kelly.
In the fourth inning, Trojan right fielder McCoy Savage walked and stole second. After shortstop Andrew Smith’s singled to left field and a successful double steal, Mize singled and brought home a run.
Mize, an East Tennessee State University signee, finished the game 3 of 4 with two stolen bases and a run and RBI.
An inning later Savage got his first hit of the game, a double which would bring Mize across the plate and put North Hall up 4-0.
Buford’s lone run came off of the bat of shortstop Austin Upshaw on a home run over the right field wall to start the sixth inning. The opportunities for runs were there, as the Wolves stranded seven base runners.
“We have to tip our hat to North Hall,” Wolves coach Tony Wolfe said. “They made tough outs and good pitches when they had to.”
Buford (18-4, 15-3) amassed only three hits on Graham, who also struck out four batters. His defense turned two inning-ending double plays in the first and third innings, allowing Graham to face the minimum number of batter through the first fourth innings.
“(Graham) is a good pitcher and competitor,” Wolfe said. “It seems like he gets better when he gets into trouble.”
The win gives North Hall a 10-game win streak. It also puts the Trojans on the precipice of a region title and a No. 1 seed in the state playoffs, needing to win one of their final three regular season games this week.
“We just have to take it game by game next week and play every game like it is a playoff game,” Graham said.
Wolfe knows his team will be playing from behind in the upcoming week.
“I see it like we are three games back,” Wolfe said. “It’s not a likely scenario they lose all three (games) next week.”
Though the loss sets them back in terms of capturing another region title, the Wolves have achieved one of their preseason goals, getting into the playoffs.
“We have to make sure momentum goes toward the playoffs and not get down about losing to a team that good,” Wolfe added.
On Monday, North Hall visits White County in Cleveland, while Buford faces West Hall in Oakwood.