Around this time last year, the North Hall High baseball team entered a late losing skid in region play that preceded its remarkable run to the school’s first-ever state championship.
This season’s Trojans squad, however, is surging — and it knows it’ll at least have a spot in the state tournament.
North Hall romped to a 15-2 win in five innings against East Hall on Friday, April 6, at East Hall Park in Gainesville, clinching a series sweep and one of the four playoff spots out of Region 7-3A. In coach Trevor Flow’s eyes, the Trojans’ 15th consecutive victory was its best so far.
“I got out here a little early today, and everyone was in the batting cages 30 minutes before they even had to arrive,” Flow said. “There was just something different about them today. They were focused and ready. We never seem to play well here, but this was our most complete game all year.”
The Vikings (10-11, 5-7 region), meanwhile, dropped their fifth straight contest but can still make the postseason with a strong finish over the final two weeks of the season.
Every member of the starting lineup for North Hall (17-3, 12-0 region) had either a hit or an RBI, led by junior Caleb Clark, who was 4 for 4 with three RBIs and three runs scored.
Senior catcher Charlie Erickson (2 for 2, double) and sophomore first baseman Jackson Dyer (2 for 4, one run scored) also drove in a trio of runs apiece, while sophomore eight-hole hitter Caden Bales went 2 for 3 with a pair of runs scored and an RBI.
“Everyone was ready to go today,” said Erickson, one of only three seniors on the team and one of just two everyday players remaining from last year’s state championship squad. “We knew this was a big game.
“Losing (around this time) last year was big motivation for us in this game. We didn’t have great fire and intensity in the game we lost last year, and not a lot of guys were a part of what we did last year, so we knew we had to come out and prove ourselves.”
Indeed, a loss in last year’s series finale against East Hall sent the Trojans tumbling from the top of the region to the No. 3 playoff seed following a 1-6 slide to close the regular season.
From the opening pitch Friday, North Hall made sure it avoided a similar outcome.
Erickson plated Clark with a single in the top of the first inning before the Trojans put six runs on the board in both the second and third innings, batting around the order in each frame. Dyer highlighted the top of the second with a two-run triple into left field.
Clark scorched a double to drive in the first two runs of the third inning, during which North Hall sent 10 men to the plate and forced a pair of pitching changes.
The Trojans’ pinch hitters even got in on the action — sophomore Zach Warwick reached on an error, freshman Jay Johnson legged out an infield single and sophomore Caleb Payne sent them both racing home on a double.
North Hall finished with 16 hits, five for extra bases.
“We’ve been capable of hitting like that all year,” Erickson said. “In this game, we were just very focused. Everybody had their swings tonight.”
The offensive outburst overshadowed a solid performance from senior pitcher Mark Swett, who carried a perfect game into the fifth inning before plunking East Hall senior Tripp Rider to lead off the frame.
Junior catcher Mike Matuska and senior Levi Crocker then ripped off back-to-back singles, the latter driving in Rider. Matuska scored the Vikings’ second run when senior center fielder Luke Cooper connected on a single.
With the bases loaded, Swett recovered to pick off the runner at second base and seal the victory.
“Mark threw extremely well for us,” Flow said. “He kind of fell off a bit toward the end, but he picked it up and executed. He threw well enough for us to win and kept them off-balance.”
The Trojans can strengthen their grip on the region lead in next week’s three-game series against reigning region champion Greater Atlanta Christian. The teams meet for Game 1 at 5:55 p.m. Monday at Jody Davis Field in Gainesville.
East Hall will try to keep its momentum from Friday’s final inning going when it opens its three-game series against Dawson County at 5:55 p.m. Monday in Dawsonville.