Charlie Erickson gathered the ball off one hop, forcefully tagged the runner out several feet from home plate and let out a roar along with his North Hall High baseball teammates.
On a night when Trojans coach Trevor Flow thought his players’ energy was lacking, there was plenty of it to go around on the final play.
Junior center fielder Dylan Wiley threw out the game-tying run at the plate to preserve North Hall’s 3-2 win against Union County on Wednesday, March 28, at Jody Davis Field in Gainesville. Erickson was still fired up about 10 minutes after the Trojans’ win, which kept their unbeaten Region 7-3A record intact and pushed their winning streak to 11 games.
“It was just the game situation. It was a do-or-die moment,” the senior catcher said of his aggressive tag and emotional outburst to end the game. “If it wasn’t a perfect strike (from Wiley), we might have been in trouble there. The adrenaline was pumping.”
Despite the victory, Flow felt his players were mostly missing that enthusiasm Wednesday night.
As a result, North Hall (13-3, 8-0 region) found itself in a tied game late after opening the three-game series with a 14-1, mercy-rule victory Monday in Blairsville. The defending Class 3A state champions left the bases loaded in three different innings and stranded 12 runners total.
“It was frustrating because we hit the ball hard, but we just couldn’t get the big hit,” Flow said. “I’m not disappointed in them because of that at all. That’s baseball. It’s doesn’t matter who you’re playing, sometimes you just can’t get the ball to find the right spot.
“But we talked about our energy level. A championship team needs to keep that energy up from the first out to the last out, and that’s something we’re still learning right now.”
It nearly cost the Trojans a precious region win, but sophomore first baseman Jackson Dyer scored the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly by classmate Caden Bales immediately after the Panthers (7-10, 1-7) knotted the game at 2-all in the top of the fifth inning.
Such late-game heroics didn’t seem necessary after the first inning, when North Hall jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Four of the Trojans’ first six batters reached safely, with senior third baseman Reese Olson (2 for 4) and junior shortstop Caleb Wiley providing RBI singles.
North Hall’s offense stagnated from there, though a strong outing from junior pitcher Caleb Clark mitigated the lack of runs.
Clark retired the first five hitters he faced and eight of the first 10, striking out seven across his five-inning performance. He nearly made it out of the fifth inning unscathed, but Union County senior second baseman Logan Dyer’s two-strike single drove in the game-tying runs with two outs.
“Caleb threw the ball well enough to keep us in the game,” Flow said.
The junior, who also went 2 for 4 with a double at the plate, caught Logan Dyer stealing for the second time in the game to escape the inning and set the stage for Jackson Dyer’s leadoff single and go-ahead run.
Clark gave way to classmate Kelton Kieschnick, who struck out three, allowed two hits and walked one while earning the six-out save. The Panthers still mustered a threat in the top of the seventh inning when junior right fielder Jonathan Everett (3 for 3) beat out an infield single and advanced to second base on a sac bunt.
Senior shortstop Patrick Baggett then scorched a ball right at Dylan Wiley, whose laser throw from center field beat Everett to the plate by several steps and gave his team the win.
“I was surprised they sent (Everett),” Flow said. “When they sent him, I knew we had a chance to make a play. And the kid challenged Charlie. I don’t think there was anything malicious about (the tag). It was just an adrenaline play.”
Flow didn’t seem all that shocked by Dylan Wiley’s throw to the plate, saying the junior is the most improved defensive player in the outfield, if not on the team.
“His arm wasn’t like that last year,” the first-year coach said.
Because of his improvement, the Trojans survived a tight game after winning the majority of their early-season region contests by wide margins. But Erickson said North Hall, which wraps up its series against Union County at 5:55 p.m. Friday in Blairsville, can draw motivation and benefit from Wednesday’s wake-up call.
And considering how the game ended, playing with enough energy shouldn’t be a problem in the near future.
“I definitely think a play like that can carry over into the next game,” Erickson said. “If we just win easily and walk off the field, then we might not be that fired up for the next game. We didn’t start off on the best foot energy-wise tonight, and we know we can’t do that again.”