NORCROSS — There's always one throwaway game a season.
North Hall is hoping Monday’s very sloppy 7-3 loss to Greater Atlanta Christian in the opening game of the two teams’ crucial Region 7-AAA series at Hester Field is it.
The Trojans committed an uncharacteristic three errors, leading to four unearned runs, and compounded that problem by leaving the bases loaded three times without scoring a run and went just 1-for-12 with runners-in-scoring-position (RISP).
“We just did not play sharp at all,” North Hall coach Trent Mongero said. “Really the last three or four games we haven’t played very well. Hopefully we’ve gotten this kind of stuff out of our system.”
The loss was a big one for North Hall (18-6, 11-2 Region 7-AAA) as now the two teams are in a virtual tie for first place in the region. GAC improved to 16-8 overall and 11-2 in region play.
The series now moves to Jody Davis Field on Wednesday. Despite the rough past week, Mongero said there is no need to panic.
“All it takes is a ‘W’ (on Wednesday) and we’re back on track,” he said. “We got humbled. But now we’ll see how we respond. I have confidence in our guys.”
Scrappy senior southpaw Jacob Stewart, throwing 90 percent slow-paced curveballs, stymied North Hall hitters at crucial times. Stewart surrendered nine hits and walked six in 5 2/3 innings. But time and again he got North Hall hitters to roll over his looping off-speed pitch when he needed an out.
“(Stewart) kept us off balance pretty good,” Mongero said. “We just couldn’t get the hits when we needed them.”
North Hall ace Reese Olson went six innings yielding nine hits, walked just one, and fanned three. But the GAC batters worked him for deep counts and made the most of their opportunities going 4-for-9 with RISP with five RBI.
In the first and fourth, when GAC plated three runs each, Olson had chances to get out of the inning but was undone by either a missed strike call or errors. All three runs in the fourth were unearned as the Trojans defense made two big errors on plays that could have gotten them out of the inning.
Early on it looked like North Hall was ready to get started quickly with Taber Mongero ripping a single to center and Austin Adams reaching on an error to begin the contest. But Stewart got Charlie Erickson looking, Jackson Latty flied out to center, and after a walk to Olson, Drew Hubbard grounded into a fielder’s choice at second as the Trojans left the bases loaded and went 0-for-3 with RISP in the inning.
The Spartans mounted a quick rally of their own in the bottom of the first but with better success. Shane Lussier singled, Carson Taylor doubled, and JP McGuire was walked intentionally to load the bases with one out. Sam Johnson then doubled in two runs for a 2-0 lead. Nathan Nakada added an RBI groundout to push it to a 3-0 advantage.
The Trojans loaded the bases again in the second with a Dylan Lavender bunt single, a Mongero single to left, and a walk to Adams. But Erickson flew out to center to let Stewart off the hook again.
After a quick 1-2-3 inning by Olson in the second, Jackson Latty got the Trojans on the board with his first home run of the season to cut the lead to 3-1 in the third.
The Spartans came right back getting runners at first and second with no outs after a Lussier single and Taylor reaching on an error. North Hall catcher Erickson gunned down Lussier at third trying to steal but McGuire singled and Johnson knocked in his third run with a bloop single to right for a 4-1 lead. It could have been a much bigger inning but Erickson threw out McGuire at third trying to steal and Olson fanned Nakada to get out of the jam.
The Trojans continued to put pressure on Stewart loading the bases for the third time in the fourth. This time Olson delivered with a two-run single scoring Adams and Erickson to cut the lead to 4-3.
GAC answered back in the bottom of the inning with three unearned runs to push the lead to 7-3.
North Hall did not go away, though. The Trojans mounted a rally in the sixth loading the bases again with one out. But Caleb Clark struck out and Wesley Smith grounded out to first against reliever Adam Carver as the Spartans once again wiggled free without allowing a run to score. Carver retired the Trojans in order in the seventh to preserve the win.
The Trojans left runners on in every inning except the seventh and stranded 14 for the game. GAC stranded just four base runners.
NOTES: Adams was ejected in the fifth inning after a groundout to end the inning when he slammed his helmet to the ground. He started at third on Monday and also starts at second at times and now will have to miss the rest of the series...Mongero said that will leave them with some decisions to make as they try to salvage the series.