Saturday December 9th, 2023 10:52AM

Playoff baseball: Trojans not taking "experience" for granted

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

GAINESVILLE — If anyone knows about the power of experience, it’s North Hall baseball coach Trent Mongero.

Back in 2013, his upstart Trojans squad advanced to their first-ever semifinals and were playing host to a veteran Blessed Trinity team that had made two straight Elite Eight appearances and one semifinal during the three previous seasons.

“They had all this experience and for us it was the first time we had ever been that far in the playoffs. Everyone was saying we didn’t have a chance because of that,” Mongero recalled. “We just went into that series knowing that if we played our game we could win. We all know what happened.”

The Trojans battled to a three-game victory, including a 4-0 shutout in the clinching contest, their second shutout win of the series, to break into the championship round for the first -- and so far -- only time in program history.

On Wednesday, North Hall will play host to Calhoun at Jody Davis Field in the Class AAA semifinals with a shot at punching a ticket to the finals for a second time in five seasons.

This time, however, the Trojans will be the team with the playoff pedigree. It is their second semifinal appearance since 2013 and they have been to the quarterfinals or better three times in that span. The Yellow Jackets are into the semifinals for the first time since winning the Class AA state title in 2010.

“Experience at this time of year really doesn’t matter,” Mongero said. “The key is just playing your game and not making mistakes. In that Blessed Trinity series, Game 3 essentially came down to a missed play by their second baseman that opened the door for us. It was that close. At this stage everybody is good and obviously is playing well, whether it’s on the road or at home.”

The road vs. home element brings an interesting dynamic to this series in particular. Both teams spent the first three rounds busing around the state.

Both teams also are among a group of just six teams left in the playoffs among all eight tournament brackets (32 teams) to collect six road wins. The Trojans went 6-1 away from Jody Davis Field, the second-best win percentage of that group (Toombs County in Class AA is 6-0) including road series wins at Southeast Bulloch and Ringgold last week.

The Jackets are 6-2 on the road and stunned defending Class AA state champion Lovett last week in three games in the quarterfinals in Atlanta. That was on the heels of a trek to Brantley County, near Waycross, in the second round.

The Yellow Jackets (23-13) are the No. 4 seed from Region 6-AAA while North Hall (25-11) is the No. 3 seed from 7-AAA. As a result, the Trojans will get their first home game in nearly a month (April 19 vs. Dawson County) while the Jackets will see if they can add to their road prowess.

Mongero, playing a hunch last week that his team might get one last opportunity to play in front of the home fans, did some basic ground crew work on Jody Davis Field before the Ringgold series. The saying goes that “you never want to mess with a winning streak” but Mongero had his thoughts on that.

“That’s probably true but we were tired of the road and wanted to play at home and sleep in our own beds,” he said after the sweep in Ringgold. “We worked on the field a little just in case. We’re very excited about this opportunity. It doesn’t matter where you play now. Confidence is more important (than experience) right now.”

What about seedings and records? 

“You can throw all that out the window as well,” he said. “(Calhoun) is from arguably the toughest region in the state. They’ve played extreme competition all year. Just like us, they’re here because they are playing great baseball at the right time of the season.”

Region 6-AAA put three teams in the Elite Eight and No. 2 seed Coahulla Creek also advanced to the Final Four last week. North Hall is the only remaining 7-AAA team still playing but did take down 6-AAA champ Ringgold on the road.

Quick starts help set the strategy for the rest of the series. Both teams have done that during the last two rounds.

Calhoun has won the opening game in all three of its playoff series but also staved off elimination with a pair of Game 3 victories in the first and third rounds. The Trojans dropped their opening playoff game to Pace Academy in the first round and fought off two elimination games in that series on the way to what is now six straight wins overall.

Mongero acknowledged that the ultimate goal is within reach for the Trojans. But he also knows that, to get the big prize, you must sweat the details.

“Our goals every year are to win the region and have a chance to play for the state title. We didn’t get the region this year, but the big one is within our reach,” he said. “If we take care of business, it’s possible. That means (we need) solid pitching, playing great defense, and getting some timely hits. We have to do all those things. But I’m sure it won’t be easy. I’m expecting a fierce battle.”

-- WHEN: Wednesday 5 p.m. (DH); Thursday (Game 3 if necessary) 2 p.m.
-- WHERE: Jody Davis Field, Gainesville
-- NORTH HALL (25-11, No. 3 seed Region 7-AAA): Swept Region 6-AAA champion Ringgold in the quarterfinals round, 4-2 and 6-5
-- CALHOUN (23-13, No. 4 seed Region 6-AAA): Defeated Lovett 2-1 in the quarterfinals, 3-2, 4-5, 2-0
-- NOTABLE: Ringgold was 16-3 at home on the season before the quarterfinals and had not lost back-to-back home games all season. ... The Trojans are 11-4 at Jody Davis Field this season. Calhoun was just 3-4 on the road during the regular season but has gone 6-2 on the road in the playoffs. ... North Hall has 214 runs to just 185 for Calhoun while the Trojans have yielded 100 runs to 120 for the Yellow Jackets on the season.
-- WINNER FACES: winner of the Coahulla Creek-Pierce County semifinals in the Class AAA championships series, site TBA

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