Reese Olson felt a sense of relief when he finally put pen to paper with Georgia Tech last November, cementing the next stepping stone for his baseball career.
With one more task crossed off his list, the returning Class 3A Co-Player of the Year and right-handed ace for the North Hall High baseball team has adjusted his mentality to better a Trojans team coming off a historic 2017 campaign in which it delivered the school a state championship — the first state title in the program’s 60-year history.
Yet, that’s all in the past now. Already six games into a new era of Trojan baseball under newly promoted head coach Trevor Flow, Olson is tasked with adopting a more hands-on role as one of three returning senior contributors among a slew of ripe underclassmen.
Olson, Charlie Erickson and Caleb Clark are the only regular players who remain from the Class 3A championship squad after graduating such a large senior class that included fellow 2017 Co-Player of The Year Taber Mongero, who now plays for Gardner-Webb University.
“You lose a lot of leadership, and those three seniors have never had to lead, you know, because that senior class last year was so big,” said Flow, who waved goodbye to nine seniors after 2017, when he served as pitching coach. “Now you’re looking at a whole different team, whole different atmosphere, trying to gel those guys together.”
Luckily for Flow, his current senior ace and centerpiece of the North Hall (3-3) starting rotation has picked up where he left off. Olson has tossed 14 hitless innings with a combined 22 strikeouts and only four walks for a 3-0 mark despite a limited pitch count.
“It’s huge for us, just simply because we’re so inexperienced,” Flow said. “To have (Reese) come back and continue what he’s done — actually he’s improved, his velocity had improved. He’s kind of set the tone for us on the mound.
“Having that experience on the mound is a huge part for us if we want to be successful. He’s done a great job of just picking up where we left off.”
Olson, so far, has had a hand in the team’s development.
“We have a lot of younger guys,” said Olson, who set a school record for regular-season wins with a 13-1 mark as a junior. “We’re just trying to get everyone prepared, get them used to varsity and trying to build on what we did last year.”
Last season, Olson maintained a 1.37 ERA over five playoff starts, all complete-game victories as North Hall rattled off a 10-game postseason winning streak on the path to Savannah. This year Olson leads the rotation of No. 2 Caleb Clark and projected No. 3 in senior Mark Swett, who only pitched three innings total last season but showed drastic improvement to garner attention from Flow and the coaching staff.
Yet Flow’s first point of action was to get his seniors up to speed during 4-on-1 offseason workouts, a regimen allowing high school teams to work out four players per coach in increments of 45 minutes. That process, which lasted from the second week of September until the end of Thanksgiving break, began with a defensive focus because North Hall’s first-year skipper is having to replace the majority of his infield with a slew of players coming up from the junior varsity ranks.
It has been quite the task for Flow, who had the opportunity to coach two four-year defensive studs back-to-back: two-time first-team all-region shortstop Andrew Smith before Taber Mongero assumed the position.
“We’ve been pretty strong defensively, so that was our key,” said Flow, who served as an assistant under Trent Mongero in the previous five seasons. “We didn’t score a lot last year. We only hit .300 as a team. I knew defensively this year was going to be huge to replace those guys like Taber.”
Flow said his team is indeed experiencing a slow start from the plate, due to the inexperience and a lack of varsity at-bats.
However, Flow and Olson both said this untested squad has gained some stride throughout a trying non-region slate that includes Class 7A powerhouse South Forsyth, a team Flow predicts will make a run at a state championship this year.
“The kids have seen some really good competition,” Flow said. “When region (play) gets here, I feel like what they’ve seen will have prepared them, even though region is a whole different season. It’s still going to be a learning process. But luckily we don’t play (Region 7-3A frontrunners) Dawson County and Greater Atlanta Christian until the end.”
North Hall concludes non-region play with a doubleheader against West Hall on Saturday, March 3, followed by the region opener against Lumpkin County on Monday, March 5. The Trojans host the Indians for the first of a two-game series at 5:55 p.m. in Gainesville.