North Hall enters the deciding third game of its state semifinal series against Blessed Trinity with a pretty positive outlook on things, even though it dropped the second game of the series 8-5 Monday at Jody Davis Field in Gainesville.
Trailing 8-0 going into the top of the seventh, North Hall plated five runs and brought the tieing run to the plate with one out, before a ground out double-play secured the victory for the top-ranked Titans.
“I’m very pleased with the fight our kids showed there at the end of the game and feel it definitely gives us some momentum heading into Game 3,” North Hall coach Trent Mongero said.
North Hall won the first game 1-0 in the best-of-three series behind a beautiful one-hit pitching performance from senior Preston Graham. He had five strikeouts and didn’t allow a walk.
“I didn’t think Preston could pitch any better than when he struck out 17 of 18 batters in the first round of the playoffs (against Decatur), but what he did tonight was one of the most masterful performances I’ve ever seen,” North Hall coach Trent Mongero said. “He’s just a superior high school pitcher.
“I’m really at a loss for words to describe how well he pitched.”
With the split, the two will play a deciding third game at 5 p.m. today in Gainesville. As a result of a coin toss between coaches after the game, North Hall will play as the home team.
For North Hall, senior left hander Colton Duttweiler will pitch today’s game that will determine which team advances to the state championship series against Cartersville. Mongero said Graham is certainly an option in relief in Game 3 after needing just 65 pitches to get through seven innings, marking his third complete-game shutout of the postseason.
“Graham’s as good as they get,” Blessed Trinity coach Andy Harlin said.
Meanwhile for Blessed Trinity, Harlin didn’t say which of his pitchers will start today, but ruled out both of his two dominant starters from Monday’s doubleheader split.
Blessed Trinity senior Reed Scott allowed just two hits, both to senior Adam Kelly in Game 1, while recording 10 strikeouts and allowing just two hits. In Game 2, lefthander Brian Kehner kept the Trojans off balance, allowing just two hits through six innings before yielding to a reliever.
“It’s gonna be a dogfight in Game 3,” Harlin said. “North Hall is an excellent team.”
Trailing 8-0 in the top of the seventh inning, the visiting Trojans started with walks from Griffin Olson and Colton Duttweiler, and Lincoln Hewett singled to load the bases. Stephen Murray and Graham each roped RBI singes for North Hall to plate its first runs of the game.
Then with the bases loaded and a 3-2 count, Andrew Smith slapped an RBI single past shortstop that scored a pair of runs and brought the tying run to the plate. Blessed Trinity recorded the final out by inducing a ground ball for the double play.
“That gives us a lot of momentum going into Game 3 because we kept fighting, didn’t quit and just battled,” Graham said. “I feel like we’re a lot more loose now than we were when we were down 8-0 late in the game.”
Blessed Trinity senior first baseman Nathaniel Maggio, a University of Tennessee signee, was the difference maker in Game 2 with his three home runs and six runs he drove in.
He belted a solo home run to dead center field in the first inning with two strikes and two outs, then in the third inning he hit a towering two-run homer just to the right of straightaway center field. In the fifth inning, Maggio bashed a long two-run homer over the right field wall.
He was walked intentionally his final trip to the plate.
Bronco O’Brien had a solo home run for the Titans in the fourth inning that bounced off the top of the wall in center field and over the fence. Sam Roberts was 3 for 4 at the top of the order for Blessed Trinity in Game 2 with a pair of runs scored.
NORTH HALL 1, BLESSED TRINITY 0: Graham retired the first eight batters he faced in order to start the day, before Blessed Trinity’s Jack Dunn doubled with two outs in the third inning for its only hit of the game.
The only jam Graham faced all day was in the third when the Titans put runners on the corners with two outs. The next hitter Graham faced, O’Brien, grounded softly to shortstop and Smith made a nice fielding play and quick throw in time to record the out at first to keep the game scoreless.
Graham also kept Maggio hitless in Game 1, grounding out twice and flying out to center field.
With two outs in the fourth, the Trojans scored the game’s only run on a ground ball from Lincoln Hewett that went right under the second baseman’s legs, scoring Adam Kelly from third. Kelly reached base on a double past third base and moved to third on a throw-back attempt that went into the outfield.
Kelly also singled in the second inning for North Hall.