GAINESVILLE -- Trent Mongero has drilled into his players' heads the need to stay calm and confident at the plate, no matter the situation.
On Thursday, Preston Graham showed it is a lesson the North Hall baseball team has taken to heart.
Down to the Trojans' final out in the bottom of the seventh, Graham fought off any hint of nerves and popped an RBI single to left field that scored Drew Atha and clinched a 2-1 win over Flowery Branch at North Hall's Jody Davis Field.
"Coach always pounds on us to stay confident and stay short up there, and that's what I did," Graham said. "We came up with some big late hits tonight, and we never got down on each other and really pulled this one out."
Graham's game-winning drive came just one inning after the Trojans (3-1) knotted the score 1-1 on Griffin Olson's RBI single to centerfield that scored Zach Mize and slowed a stellar performance from Flowery Branch starter Brad Keller, who did not allow hit through 3 2/3 innings work.
Keller finished with the loss despite striking out eight and allowing just five hits -- four of which came after five innings.
"I really thought we had some quality at-bats in the sixth and seventh inning with our backs against the wall," Mongero said. "I'm really proud of the way our guys competed tonight against a really good team."
One of the Trojans' biggest competitors on the night was Colton Duttweiler. The senior starter also allowed just five hits -- including two infield singles -- and struck out four. Perhaps biggest were the left-hander's throws to first base, where he picked off four Flowery Branch base-runners leaning toward second.
"Colton was outstanding; he did a lot of little things right, and in a game like this little things make a big difference," Mongero said. "He works very hard on his pick-off move, and that paid off tonight."
Duttweiler's efforts couldn't keep the Falcons from taking the lead in the fifth inning, however, as Dylan Gibeau singled with one out and eventually scored from third on a two-out RBI single up the middle from Cam Davis. Yet Duttweiler kept the damage to minimum, catching Davis in a rundown.
Keller cruised through the bottom half of the inning with the lead but Mize finally got hold of a pitch from the Falcons starter with two outs on the board in the sixth, drilling a double to deep centerfield. The long drive set up Olson -- who finished 2-for-3 on the night, the only player with multiple hits in the contest -- digging out a low pitch to drive through the middle of the infield that brought Mize home.
Duttweiler cruised through the top of the seventh, and Keller seemed to be doing the same in bottom of the frame, until Corbin Lewallen walked with two outs on the board (he was replaced on the base paths by Atha). McKoy Savage then singled to keep the inning going and set up Graham's clutch hit.
"We've been playing a lot of good teams, and it will help a lot when we get to the region schedule," Graham said. "We're seeing great pitching and better hitting."
Keltin Devoe, Jonathan Hughes, Keller and Gibeau also produced hits for Flowery Branch.
North Hall, which fell to North Gwinnett earlier in the week, will face another Class AAAAAA team on Friday when the Trojans travel to take on North Forsyth at 6:30 p.m. in Coal Mountain.
Flowery Branch, meanwhile, will look to bounce back on Friday when the Falcons travel to North Georgia in Dahlonega where they will take on Class AAAAAA squad West Forsyth.