Tuesday October 17th, 2017 2:26PM

Baseball: Trojans seniors not ready for ride into sunset just yet

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
  Contact Editor
GAINESVILLE -- Trailing 4-3 and the Trojans down 1-0 in the series, North Hall senior Preston Graham saw what looked to be a sure double denied by a great diving catch in the bottom of the seventh inning in Game 2 of their quarterfinal series against Pierce County.

Things definitely appeared bleak.

"I was down, no doubt," Graham said. "I really just began to think maybe it was just meant to end there. We just hadn't caught any breaks up to that point."

He wasn't alone.

"I was nervous when I got up there," fellow senior Zach Mize said, just before he was able to leg out an infield ground ball that would be ruled an error one batter after Graham. "I wasn't ready for (the season) to end. But we just hadn't been able to get much going."

One person never wavered, however. Coach Trent Mongero exhibited the calm, cool demeanor needed in a moment of crisis and called Mize and Griffin Olson, who was on deck, over to the side.

"I was shaking and nervous but coach just told us to look him in the eyes," Olson said. "When we finally did, he just said 'I know you guys are going to win this game and the series. I feel it. Just do what you know how to do.'"

Olson would oblige, launching the next pitch over the left field fence for a two-run, walk-off homer to give the Trojans a dramatic victory. They would carry that momentum to a Game 3 victory the next day and a spot in Monday's Class AAA semifinals against No. 1 Blessed Trinity at Jody Davis Field.

First pitch of the doubleheader is slated for 4:30 p.m. Game 3, if necessary, is scheduled for Wednesday with a time to be determined later. The series winner will move into the Class AAA championship series beginning on Saturday.

Teams typically will feed off the energy of its coach, and the Trojans are no exception. Mongero seldom gets too excited regardless of the situation and this year's group has definitely taken on his personality.

So what Graham, Mize, Olson, and fellow seniors Adam Kelly and Colton Duttweiler witnessed after the series ended was even more telling.

"He had a tear in his eye when he was talking to us," Olson said. "I had never seen that from him before. I wasn't really sure what to think."

"I was surprised by that but I know he wants this for us more than he does for himself," Duttweiler said. "It was weird because he usually is very unemotional."

"I think he knows this is our last chance and that we have a chance to win it all and just wants us to accomplish it. I think he just got caught up in the moment," Graham said.

Mongero said any personality similarities are just coincidence. He attributed his team's success to hard work, good leadership, and chemistry.

"Maybe the hardest working team I've ever had. Certainly one of the most talented," he said. "But what makes this group stand out is the leadership they bring to the team. I don't really have to do a lot of talking. The seniors have stepped up all year and really led this team. The success they're having is mainly of their own doing. They have a great chemistry together.

"As for the speech before Griffin's shot, I just had a feeling is all. That's only happened to me a couple of times in all my years of playing and coaching. I just knew they were going to find a way."

Every school has that group that comes around once every 10 or 15 years that just oozes over with talent and intangibles that breeds success. The 2012-13 season has been one of those years for the Trojans. The football and boys basketball teams both advanced to the semifinals and now the baseball team has a chance to put the stamp on perhaps the most successful year ever for North Hall sports.

Olson leads the team in hitting (.500 avg), hits (50), and RBI (41). Mize leads the team in doubles (17) and Duttweler leads the team in triples (5). Junior Andrew Smith is the only non-senior to lead an offensive category with 52 runs scored from the lead-off spot.

On the mound, Duttwelier leads with 11 wins (a single-season school record) and Graham has 10 wins and both have pitched over 70 innings on the season. Kelly has the lowest ERA at 0.33 in 42 1/3 innings pitched and surrendered just 17 hits in that span.

"When the coaches in all the sports saw this group I think we all felt we had an athletic core of kids to be successful," Mongero said. "I knew the baseball team, once they matured some and fine-tuned their skills, would have a chance to be a special group."

They haven't disappointed so far. No North Hall baseball team had gotten past the second round until this year. But the seniors say that are not just satisfied with where they stand.

"After getting close in basketball I would love to get to the finals," Kelly said. "We didn't come into the year just looking to get past the second round."

Blessed Trinity will certainly put any thoughts of destiny or even the desire to win it all to the ultimate test. The Titans (28-4) have been ranked No. 1 most of the season and have steamrolled their way through the playoffs. They are a perfect 6-0 and have surrendered just five total runs in the playoffs.

The Trojans (30-3) were pushed to the limit by Pierce County and faced two elimination games before being able to dispatch the Bears in three games. North Hall pitching was touched for 13 runs in the three games, more than the Trojans had surrendered in their previous 16 games combined.

"I think most people probably don't give us much of a chance," Mongero said. "Personally, I have confidence in my guys and I think we have a good chance to beat them. We will have to play our game, which is being aggressive when we can. We have to get quality at-bats every time and we have to win pitches in every sequence.

"Pitching will be the key and they have five quality guys. We've used mainly four pitchers this year and unless something unusual happens that will probably be the case again."

Olson summed up their attitude heading into the biggest series of their careers to this point.

"I know it sounds crazy but we feel like we're supposed to be here," he said. "We've been in these situations before and I don't think any of us really feel the pressure. We just try to go out and play."

"We felt like we could get here," Graham said. "It will be a fun challenge to see if we can get past the Final Four and into the title series."

Mongero, however, isn't quite ready to jump on the 'team of destiny' bandwagon just yet.

"Right now, we're just focusing on the next game. No big-picture stuff for me yet," he said. "If we get past Blessed Trinity, maybe. But if we do win the title, then I'll say we're a team of destiny. Not before that.

"But really, to me, these guys are the kind of kids every coach wants to have. No matter what happens the rest of the way, they have met and exceeded all expectations. We'll all be disappointed if we don't win it all because that's why you play. But they're all winners in my book just by the way they carry themselves every day."
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