North Hall’s win against Oconee County on Tuesday resembled so many other games it has played this season.
Although the Trojans (11-3, 9-2 Region 8-AAA) fell behind in the first inning, they struck for four runs in the bottom half of the inning, and Chris Stevens settled down to pitch a complete game as part of a 7-2 victory at Jody Davis Field.
It was the eighth time this season North Hall trailed in the first inning this season, but it didn’t last long with the Trojans taking advantage of three Warriors (10-4, 9-3) errors in the first inning alone.
“We were fortunate that they made a couple of mistakes early, and we were able to take advantage of them,” said North Hall center fielder Wade Phillips, who finished 3 for 4 with two RBIs.
The win for North Hall was significant in the region standings. The Trojans’ win, combined with a White County loss means they are in a three-way tie with Gainesville (all 9-2 in region play) atop the standings. Oconee County is now in fourth place.
“We just want to continue playing like we have all season,” Trojans coach Trent Mongero said. “Like I’ve said before, everything will work itself out in the end.
“All that really matters is who’s in first at the end.”
Trailing 1-0 in the first inning, North Hall sent 10 hitters to the plate and found some major holes in Oconee County’s defensive play.
After a lead-off single from Andrew Smith, Whit Bowen and Jesse Strickland both reached base on fielding errors with bunts down the third base line. With two on base already, Mongero had Strickland bunt on a 3-1 count and loaded the bases when the catcher couldn’t come up with the ball cleanly and make the throw for an out.
Before the game was over, North Hall put five runners on base with bunts down the third base line. The Trojans loaded the bases on four separate occasions in the first inning.
“We have a saying, ‘how many bullets are there in your gun,’” Mongero said. “If we’re able to bunt effectively, that’s just another tool we have to get on base.
“I’m really proud of how we executed.”
Once North Hall loaded the bases in the first inning, it continued to put the pressure on Oconee County. With one out, Bowen stole home safely ahead of the tag, followed by an RBI single by Phillips. Stevens scored the final run of the inning for the Trojans on an outfield error.
Stevens was the most relieved person in the North Hall dugout with its four-run first inning. It gave the Trojans right-handed starting pitcher a clean slate after allowing a leadoff home run to Davis Aiken in the first inning.
However, Stevens quickly settled down after the early hiccup. He racked up eight strikeouts over the next six innings and kept Mongero from having to go to the bullpen.
“We’ve had a bunch of bad first innings this season, but I knew it was early in the game and our bats would help us get back in the game,” Stevens said.
North Hall loaded the bases again in the third inning with a bunt single by Smith down the third base line. A ground ball by Bowen scored one run for the Trojans, then an outfield error allowed two more runs to score.
Smith and Phillips each had three hits and two runs for North Hall. Mason Savage also scored a run for the Trojans and played behind the plate in place of Eli Gilmer.
Gilmer is sidelined after suffering a concussion in last Friday’s loss against Gainesville. He’ll have to be medically cleared before returning to North Hall’s lineup.
North Hall visits Johnson at 5:55 p.m. today. Oconee County visits Stephens County at 5:55 today in Toccoa.