It would have been easy for the North Hall baseball team to become complacent.
With a comfortable lead in the subregion, the players could have easily gone on break like the rest of their classmates did this week.
Add to it the fact the Trojans have an anticipated showdown with undefeated Gainesville next Friday, and their game against Johnson could have been overlooked.
North Hall, however, had different ideas.
Riding an offense that connected for 16 hits in five innings, including six straight in the second, North Hall cruised to a 12-2 win over the Knights on Friday at Jody Davis Field.
With the win, the Trojans (12-5, 9-2 Region 8-AAA North) extended their winning streak to four games and made it three in a row scoring at least 10 runs.
“We had a solid approach at the plate again tonight,” North Hall coach Trent Mongero said. “I thought we executed well in critical situations early on, got some critical hits and took the early lead.”
The Trojans scored runs in all five innings, including five in a second inning in which they sent 11 batters to the plate.
Center fielder Wade Phillips led off the inning with a sharp single and spent very little time on base. The next man up, Eli Gilmer, needed just three pitches to slap a double into the right-center field alley to bring Phillips all the way around to score. Gilmer stopped at second with a stand-up double, and Colton Duttweiler followed with single to make it second and third with nobody out.
A wild pitch brought the second run of the inning across the plate. Pitcher Preston Graham, third baseman Andrew Smith and second baseman Zach Mize each reached in order to make it four runs home before an out was recorded in the inning.
Shortstop Jesse Strickland grounded into a fielder’s choice to record the first out of the inning, but plated the fifth and final run of the frame on the play.
North Hall scored three more in the third, when Duttweiler and Graham each singled to start the inning before a Smith triple brought both runners home. Smith crossed the plate on a sacrifice fly from Mize.
“Sixteen hits in the game: That’s not bad,” said Phillips, who finished 3 for 3 in the game. “We’ve been hitting the ball all week. It’s hard, because it’s spring break, but coach kept telling us to stay focused. We just had to relax and get after it.”
Smith led the way on offense, finishing the game a home run short of the cycle. He was 3 for 4 with three RBIs. Mize was 2 for 3 with two doubles and two RBIs, Duttweiler was 3 for 3 and Graham was 3 for 3.
“We just got into a groove,” said Gilmer, who was for 1 for 3 with an RBI in the game. “One person gets a big hit, and the next guy comes in and matches it.”
Lost in the offensive outburst was another stellar outing on the mound from Graham.
The junior pitched a complete-game, four-hitter, allowing just two runs and striking out four.
His day got off to an inauspicious start when Johnson third baseman Trae Wilson hit a towering home run to right field as just the second batter of the game.
Graham rebounded nicely, however, making it through the rest of the batting order without any more damage.
Wilson came around to score the second, and final, run of the game for the Knights (10-8, 6-6 Region 8-AAA South) in the third inning after he was intentionally walked. First baseman A.J. Benefield hit a double to bring him all the way around from first to make the score 7-2 at that point.
Wilson finished 1 for 2 in the game, his homer being the lone hit, and Benefield was 2 for 2 with an RBI.
“Let me say first that Trae Wilson is an exceptional hitter,” Mongero said. “He got a tough pitch and hit it hard early on. I was really impressed with the way Preston regrouped to win that game. An immature pitcher would be shaking, but Preston tipped his hat to Trae, and went back to work.”
Gilmer said that he was impressed with the team’s ability to play another complete game.
“Our hitting and pitching has been great,” he said. “When we put that together, we’re tough to beat.”
The Trojans host Lumpkin County on Wednesday before taking on Gainesville in a big cross-subregion showdown next Friday at Ivey-Watson Field. Mongero said his team isn’t looking ahead to that game, however.
“Not at all. I know everyone else is, but we’re not,” he said. “If we accomplish the goals we’ve set out for ourselves, we’ll see Gainesville again anyway.”