Entrenched in a battle for the top spot in Region 8-AAA, North Hall baseball coach Trent Mongero knows his team is playing with a target on its back.
According to Mongero, the Trojans "expect every game to be a battle," which was certainly the case Wednesday against Lumpkin County.
After watching its four-run lead disappear, North Hall scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth, and Chris Stevens pitched a scoreless seventh for a complete-game 6-4 win over the Indians.
"We work on execution every day and put ourselves in pressure situations," Mongero said. "If you want to be a playoff-caliber team, you have to make plays."
Stevens was at the forefront of the majority of the plays Wednesday, as the senior recorded nine strikeouts and started the scoring with an RBI double off the center-field wall in the first inning. Hamilton Harper followed the double with a two-run home run over the same wall to give the Trojans (15-4, 14-3) a 3-0 lead.
North Hall added a run in the second on a fielder's choice by Whit Bowen that scored Griffin Olson. That's all the Trojans scored because Lumpkin County (9-8, 8-8) starter Cole Walden settled down and induced a fly ball to end the inning.
Those stranded runners cost the Trojans in the top half of the third, as the Indians capitalized on two hit batters and Evan Gentry's sharply hit single to cut the deficit to three runs. Austin Gooch erased that margin by hitting a two-out, three-run home run.
"Our guys became more aggressive," Lumpkin County coach Dustin Allen said. "We kept looking at a lot of first-pitch strikes, and I told the guys we had to start swinging the bats."
With two hit batters and a sharply hit ball that took a tough hop over the shortstop, Mongero knows his team played a role in the comeback.
"Lumpkin County had a great inning," he said. "We extended the inning, and they made us pay."
With his team needing a win to keep up with Gainesville and White County in the hunt for first place in the region, Mongero watched his team go to work in the bottom of the sixth.
After back-to-back walks to start the inning, Harper scored the game-winning run on an errant throw during a double play attempt from Lumpkin County. Harper, who scored from second base, scampered home after the throw from second to first went into the protective netting beside the North Hall dugout.
North Hall, which is tied with Gainesville for second place (a half-game behind White County) added an insurance run later in the inning when pinch runner Zach Mize scored from second base on an infield single by Andrew Smith, who finished 2 for 3.
The two-run lead was plenty for Stevens, who induced a double-play ground ball to end the game and give North Hall its fourth straight win.
After the fourth inning, Stevens retired 11 of the final 15 batters he faced.
Wednesday's performance by Stevens and the consistent starts from freshman southpaw Preston Graham give North Hall a tough pitching combination, but Mongero knows his team can't rely on only those two pitchers to keep up with the Red Elephants and Warriors.
"It takes more than two, not only to win a region, but to go deep into the playoffs," Mongero said. "I'm proud of Preston and Graham, and I'm confident in our No. 3 and No. 4 (starters)."
North Hall does not play White County again, but the region championship could be on the line when it visits Gainesville on April 25, the second to last game of the regular season.
Mongero said his team isn't concerned with what the future holds.
"We've really tried to simplify things," he said. "If we try to look at the big picture, we lose focus.
"We only have control over us."
The Trojans look to improve their winning streak to five games when they host Stephens County at 5:55 p.m. Friday. Lumpkin County hosts Gainesville at 5:55 p.m. Friday.
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