Trent Mongero said many times throughout the season that his North Hall baseball team possessed no true superstars, no transcendently talented players capable of carrying the club.
Even after two Trojans shared Class 3A Co-Player of the Year honors, Mongero still stands by that idea.
Reese Olson and Taber Mongero received the recognition from Georgia Dugout Preview Magazine on Saturday, pulling in more accolades after helping North Hall win its first-ever state championship May 25.
“It’s a huge honor to share that with the caliber of player that Reese is,” Taber Mongero said. “But we couldn’t have done it without the guys surrounding us. The chemistry on that team, you can’t beat it. The other guys surrounding me and Reese made this possible. We’re all intertwined together, playing as a team.”
Trent Mongero took the same approach to being named Class 3A Coach of the Year, saying the award applied to his entire coaching staff.
Indeed, Trojans coaches and players all cited togetherness and chemistry as the primary catalysts for their magical run to the state championship — 10 straight playoff wins after losing seven of their previous eight games.
Yet Olson’s pitching and Taber Mongero’s work in the leadoff spot and at shortstop loom large over North Hall’s first state title in its 60-year history.
Olson tossed a complete game in all five of his playoff starts, compiling a 1.37 ERA during that stretch not far from his season-long mark of 1.40. He went 13-1 in his junior year, setting the program single-season wins record en route to a share of Player of the Year recognition.
Olson also hit .303 with a team-leading 37 RBIs while splitting time at third base, but his performance on the mound is what really stands out.
“Reese was dominant during the regular season, but he was lights-out during the playoffs,” Trent Mongero said. “He was everything you could ever ask for from a starting pitcher. In the playoffs, he really was more relaxed and focused.”
While Olson was shutting down opposing offenses, Taber Mongero was sparking the Trojans’ bats.
North Hall’s leadoff man hit .432 — a figure he upped to .452 in the playoffs — and posted a .512 on-base percentage this season. The senior struck out just seven times in 139 at-bats and set a school record of his own with 60 hits.
Trent Mongero said his son’s responsibility in the leadoff role was to show his teammates the opposing pitcher is “beatable,” a mindset Taber wholeheartedly embraced.
“I’d watch the pitcher warm up, and if he’s throwing strikes, I get in there and swing and hope for a hit,” the shortstop said. “Other times, if I see he’s a little wild, I’ll get in and work him a bit. I’ll make him throw and see what he’s got so the guys behind me get a look. And hopefully I’ll find a way to kickstart the offense.”
There’s no better example of Taber Mongero’s philosophy than what he did in Game 1 of North Hall’s state championship sweep of Pierce County.
After a week of hearing about the Bears’ potent pitching, he led off the Trojans’ first inning by barrelling up the first pitch for a double. Olson drove him home two batters later as North Hall jumped out to an early 3-0 lead against a team that had given up just eight runs in the playoffs.
“It gets our energy up when the leadoff guy gets on,” Olson said. “We have a greater chance to score, too. … Taber leading off with that double was a big pump-up for us. It set the tone. We got an early lead, and the momentum carried into Game 2.”
Olson did his part on the mound, quieting Piece County in a 9-2 win. Senior pitcher Corban Meeler, a first team All-State selection, also went the distance in Game 2, which North Hall won 6-5.
“We got to a point where we knew we’d have a chance to win, whether it was Reese or Corban on the mound,” Trent Mongero said. “They were back in a groove for the playoffs, and the team was confident.”
As a result, the Trojans took home a state championship, with Taber Mongero and Olson taking home Player of the Year honors nine days later.
“I’m excited for Taber,” Olson said. “We both worked really hard to get that honor. But we wouldn’t have been able to do it without our whole team. The award represents the entire team. It’s just very exciting knowing our hard work paid off.”
The pair will play together again at Gardner-Webb University after Olson completes his senior season. Once that happens, North Hall will surely miss two of the driving forces behind its historic playoff run.
Just don’t expect Trent Mongero to call them superstars.
“I know Taber and Reese recognize this is an unbelievable honor, but I think they’d be first to tell you that without their teammates, there was no way they could have won the award,” the coach said. “There were other things like Dylan Lavender’s catches, what Corban did on the mound and Jackson Latty getting hot at the plate in the playoffs.
“If those things don’t happen, we don’t win state, and we’re not talking about Taber and Reese.”