RINGGOLD — The North Hall baseball team has learned to call the road home.
The Trojans pushed their playoff road winning streak to six Thursday with an impressive 4-2 and 6-5 sweep of Ringgold at Bill Womack Field in the quarterfinals of the Class AAA playoffs.
The series victory over the Region 6-AAA champions pushed North Hall (25-11) into the semifinals for the first time since 2013. It was the first back-to-back home losses for the Tigers (29-8) all season. They were 16-3 at Womack Field until Thursday.
The Trojans now will get to see if they can use that road momentum at Jody Davis Field. They will play host to Calhoun, the No. 4 seed from 6-AAA, next Wednesday in a best-of-three series after the Yellow Jackets knocked off Lovett Thursday with a 2-0, Game 3 victory to win that series 2-1.
The Trojans also will be looking for their first championship series appearance since 2013 when they fell to Cartersville at home.
North Hall coach Trent Mongero said venue is no longer an issue for his group.
“The place doesn’t really matter at this point in the season,” he said. “But it will be nice to be back at home. I’m tired of being on the road.”
It has been a grueling three weeks for the Trojans, who started their trek in Atlanta against Pace Academy, then outside of Statesboro against Southeast Bulloch, and Thursday in the shadows of the Georgia-Tennessee line.
Senior Reese Olson, who set the tone in the quarterfinal series with a complete-game five-hitter in Game 1 to improve to 11-1 on the season, said the road trips have helped bring things together.
“I feel like we’ve been more focused since we’ve had to be on the road (for the first three rounds),” Olson said. “It has made us a better team. But I have to admit: it’s exciting to get a chance to play at home with a chance to get to the finals.”
It was a typical series for the Trojans, who fell behind in both games only to rally for the victories. They have come from behind in all six road wins in the playoffs.
Clutch hitting was huge in the series. North Hall was 8-for-25 (.320) and eight RBI with runners-in-scoring-position. The Tigers, meanwhile, were just 1-for-11 (.091) and one RBI with RISP. Ringgold did manage to crank four home runs to none for the Trojans, but three were solo shots.
North Hall pitching proved tough for a second consecutive series. After holding the highest scoring team in Class AAA (Southeast Bulloch) to just four total runs in the second round, the Trojans held Ringgold, the highest scoring team left in AAA, to more then five runs per game below its season average.
Defense played a large role as well. North Hall turned two double plays and also committed just one error in the series, while Ringgold had four huge errors that led to five unearned runs for North Hall. The Tigers did not turn a double play in the two games.
A huge play was another highlight-reel catch for Dylan Lavender in centerfield. With the tying run at the plate in the seventh inning of Game 1, Lavender robbed Ty Jones of at least a double and an RBI as he hauled in a catch as he crashed into the wall, leaving a sizeable dent. The runner at second at the time was unable to score and the Trojans closed out the victory two pitches later.
"They hit a bunch of home runs but we played small ball, got some timely hits, and made some great plays on defense," Mongero said. "That is how we have to play to win games and we did that."
Game 1: North Hall 4, Ringgold 2
The Tigers jumped on Olson quickly as Andre Tarver smoked a line drive home run into the trees in right field for a 2-0 lead just four batters into the game. But Olson settled into a groove from there retiring 10 of the next 12 Ringgold batters as the offense was able to rally.
Charlie Erickson led off the second with a single and later scored on Lavender’s RBI double to cut the lead to 2-1 against unbeaten Ringgold starter Holden Tucker.
The Trojans got the lead for good in the fifth. Lavender singled to center and then consecutive bunt singles by Taber Mongero and Austin Adams loaded the bases with no outs. Olson knocked in Lavender on a groundout to tie the game. Jackson Latty singled in Mongero and Olson came home after Ringold rightfielder Ty Jones overthrew the cutoff man and the ball rolled into the Tigers dugout allowing Olson to score for a 4-2 lead.
Starting with a double play to end the the fifth, Olson then retired eight of the last nine batters to close out the win, including getting the final out on a comebacker to the mound by Hunter Ricketts.
The loss for Ringgold's Tucker (7-1) was his first of the season.
Game 2: North Hall 6, Ringgold 5
The Tigers again struck first when Nathan Camp homered to dead center to open the game off North Hall starter Corban Meeler. The Trojans tied it in the bottom of the first on a RBI single by Olson driving in Taber Mongero, who had singled to lead off the inning.
Ringgold played more long ball in the second when Tyler Nichols and Jones drilled back-to-back home runs for a 3-1 lead and Meeler looked in trouble. He allowed two more baserunners in the inning but was able to get out the inning with no further damage.
Despite a trip to the mound, Mongero never wavered about sticking with Meeler, who had surrendered fiv ehits, and eight baserunners in the first two innings.
“I have always believed in these guys and I had confidence that Corban would finish strong,” he said.
He did. Meeler found his groove setting down six straight and nine of the next 10 batters. He did big trouble again in the fifth, however, giving up three straight hits, including back-to-back doubles.
But, he also gave the offense a chance to claw back in it. In the third RBI hits from Latty and Charlie Erickson tied the game and a RBI fielder’s choice by John Mark Montgomery gave North Hall a 4-3 lead.
Adams relieved Meeler after the two doubles in the fifth and he was greeted by a sacrifice fly from Nichols as the Tigers reclaimed the lead, 5-4.
North Hall again answered, this time with a pair of unearned runs in the bottom of the inning as David Seavey walked, stole second, and then scored on an error on a bunt attempt by Wesley Smith. Smith then scored on Montgomery’s RBI triple as the Trojans reclaimed the lead again at 6-5.
In the sixth, Ringgold was poised to break the game open loading the bases with two out against Adams. But he got Noah Parrish to ground out to short to get out of the jam and maintain the slim advantage.
Adams gave up a two-out double in the seventh but induced Gavin Hollis to fly out to Montgomery in right to end the game and clinch the series.
“I just tried to throw strikes and stay positive,” Adams said. “This group has been together a long time and we believe in each other and don’t really get too down no matter what.”