North Hall pitcher Kelton Kieschnick brought his best when the Trojans needed it the most.
Kieschnick pitched a complete game in Friday night’s decisive Game 3 against Westminster, finishing things off with five consecutive scoreless innings to close out an 8-1 North Hall victory in the second round of the state playoffs at Jody Davis Field.
The result sends the Trojans to the Class 3A quarterfinals, where they will play against Appling County next Wednesday for another best-of-three series in Baxley.
“I thought everyone played great all the way around,” Kieschnick said. “Offense stepped up when we needed, and the defense made great plays out there.”
FINAL: @nthbaseball 8, Westminster 1— Nathan Berg (@NathanxBerg) May 4, 2019
Kelton Kieschnick pitched a complete game, retiring 6 of 7 batters over the last 2 innings, culminating in this strikeout to finish things off.
With the win, North Hall advances to the Elite 8 of the Class 3A state tournament pic.twitter.com/DpVJiV4SJ3
Kieschnick’s stellar start — which included only five hits allowed and a game-ending strikeout to finish things off — nearly didn’t happen. North Hall coach Trevor Flow said Kieschnick “couldn’t really move” earlier in the week while recovering from injury, and that him starting was essentially a game-time decision.
“I didn’t know, but he said he wanted the baseball, and wow,” Flow said. “That was really, really impressive with the season on the line, coming out and throwing the ball like he did, competing and giving us a chance.”
Despite an hour and a half weather delay, the Trojans came out of the gate sharp, retiring three straight batters in the top of the first inning and scoring Caleb Wiley off a wild pitch in the bottom of the frame to take an early 1-0 lead.
Westminster evened things up in the second, but an RBI single from Jackson Dyer in the third put North Hall back on top for good.
The game stayed at 2-1 for a couple of innings before the Trojans really broke things open in the fifth.
First, Tyler Brooks’ bouncing grounder hopped over the Westminster first baseman, scoring Caleb Clark from second base. Brooks himself came home moments later off an errant throw to first base, and a wild pitch one batter later allowed Wiley to come in for his second run scored of the game.
Brooks doubled on a low line drive in the sixth inning that split the Westminster left and center fielders to bring in a pair of runners, and the North Hall rout was on.
“In the first three (innings), we just had to scrap and battle and fight,” Brooks said. “It was what we were expecting coming into this game. The last three, I don’t know, we just hit a switch and just turned it all on. The momentum started carrying.”
North Hall closed things out with mistake-free defense, with Caleb Clark making a couple spectacular catches in the outfield over the final two innings. After giving up a two-out, two-strike single in the top of the seventh, Kieschnick calmed himself down and coolly delivered a strikeout to end the game and send North Hall on to the next round.
The Trojans have now successfully escaped from a pair of elimination games in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but Flow said the group’s rough start to the season — North Hall started the year off with six straight losses — has toughened the team up and made it ready to deal with any situation.
“I just kept telling them, ‘Stay with it,’” Flow said. “’Stay the course and we’re going to be OK.’ And they battled, and they did. It comes down to one game. Baseball’s a funny game. And they did what it took.”