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North Hall baseball returns to state semifinals despite slow start, key injury
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North Hall's Kelton Kieschnick pitches during game three of the second-round state playoff baseball series at North Hall High School on Friday, May 3, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

The North Hall baseball team stunned Appling County with a dominant series sweep in Wednesday’s Class 3A quarterfinals doubleheader, but the result was no surprise to Trojans coach Trevor Flow. 

According to Flow, his team had one key advantage over the host Pirates. 

“I don’t know that (Appling County) had been challenged like that this year,” he said.

North Hall is certainly no stranger to a challenge. 

Though the team has found its way to a state semifinal bout against Pace Academy starting with another doubleheader Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., the Trojans’ path to this point has been far from a smooth one. 

Thanks to a purposely-stacked, non-region schedule, North Hall started the year with six consecutive losses, going winless in the month of February. 

“Those six losses, they definitely hurt,” Trojans pitcher Jackson Dyer said. “They were kind of a punch in the gut. But we really knew what we were capable of.”

Having grown up playing together, North Hall’s players knew they had the ability to hang with any team in the state. After a slow start, the Trojans started to prove it.  

The team started its region schedule with a series win over Dawson County, then followed it up with three straight wins over Greater Atlanta Christian — the program’s first ever series sweep of the Spartans.

“It just started clicking,” senior pitcher Kelton Kieschnick said. “It’s always hard to start off. Once we got those first few wins, it started clicking. We started getting better and better and started competing more.”

But just when things started looking up for the Trojans, adversity struck again. An injury to ace Caleb Clark forced him out of the rotation for the remainder of the season.

“Caleb’s a very, very talented kid,” Flow said. “Losing him on the mound, I personally wondered, OK, who’s next?”

Flow never had to worry.

The Trojans pitching staff picked up right where it left off winning series after regular season series and stumbling only in the last week of the season when a pair of back-to-back losses to Fannin County to finish region play knocked them out of the top seed for Region 7-3A.

Still, North Hall’s steady play to that point was enough to secure it a No. 2 seed and a couple of home series to start the state tournament. Flow said the way the team responded after Clark’s injury was a testament to its ability to bounce back, no matter the situation.

“I’m proud of that probably the most from our pitching perspective,” he said. “They didn’t blink.”

Once the playoffs came around, the North Hall pitchers truly started to find their rhythm. 

In eight games, the Trojans have allowed more than two runs only once — a 13-5 drubbing of Westminster that saw the Wildcats bring in a couple of inconsequential runs late. 

The run of success culminated in masterpiece of a series sweep over Appling County on Wednesday in which Dyer and Kieschnick pitched complete games without letting up a single earned run in wins of 11-2 and 10-0. 

“I think we were pretty focused,” Flow said of the wins. “We came out and hit the ball really well. I think we put them on their heels early, and they had a hard time recovering. Our pitchers threw the ball well, competed.”

North Hall faces an entirely different kind of opponent on Tuesday in Pace Academy. The Knights have yet to lose a game in the state tournament, and all but one of their wins have come by at least nine runs. 

But the Trojans are well acquainted with adversity. To this point in the year, they’ve always had what it takes to overcome the obstacles facing them, and Flow doesn’t believe a white hot Pace Academy squad will be any different.

“If our guys compete on the mound and compete at the plate like we’ve been doing, I don’t see why we can’t be right there in the end,” he said.

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