GAINESVILLE — Pitching has been king in the Class AAA baseball playoffs so far. Expect nothing less when North Hall plays host to Calhoun on Wednesday in the semifinals.
The two teams’ will open a best-of-three series at Jody Davis Field with a doubleheader. First pitch of Game 1 is slated for 5 p.m. with Game 2 to follow. Game 3, if necessary, is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday at Jody Davis Field.
The winner will move on to the championship round next week and face the Pierce County-Coahulla Creek winner for the state title. The finals have been moved up a day due to graduations around the state and will be held on Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday of next week at either Rome or Savannah. The sites and start times for each classification will not be determined until after all semifinal rounds of the eight classifications have been completed.
Three of the four AAA semifinalists -- Pierce County (2.54), North Hall (2.97), Coahulla Creek (3.00) -- are in the top four in the classification in runs allowed as of action through last week’s quarterfinals round. Calhoun is allowing just 3.42 runs a game.
North Hall coach Trent Mongero said earlier in the week he doesn’t see anything changing in the semifinals.
“I think this will be a pitching series as well. Both teams have three quality starters. Defense will be a huge factor also,” he said.
In last week's quarterfinals, North Hall committed just one error while Ringgold had four badly-timed errors which led to five unearned runs, half of North Hall’s total runs in the series. Calhoun played a flawless Game 3 in a 2-0 win over Lovett to advance.
North Hall (25-11) is likely to start junior Reese Olson (11-1, 1.56 ERA) and Corban Meeler (7-4, 2.13) in the doubleheader. Senior Taber Mongero (1-1, 2.98) has been the No. 3 man in the rotation with Austin Adams (2-1, 1 SV, 1.83) seeing the bulk of the late-inning duties in the playoffs.
Calhoun (23-13) is expected to start junior Brett Potts in Game 1. The Yellow Jackets have alternated between senior Georgia College-signee Jackson Braden and sophomore Davis Allen in Game 2 starts.
(NOTE: No individual stats were provided by Calhoun coaches.)
The top 15 scoring teams in AAA are all out. The Trojans (214 runs, 5.78 rpg) have scored the most of the four teams remaining, though Pierce County (204, 6.18 rpg) has the highest scoring average of the Final Four teams. Calhoun (185, 5.13 rpg) was just 24th in AAA in scoring.
However, despite yielding just four runs in a second round sweep of AAA-scoring leader Southeast Bulloch and then just seven runs to Ringgold, the No. 2 scoring team, it was timely hitting that proved the difference in both rounds for North Hall.
The Trojans were a blistering 8-for-25 (.320) with runners-in-scoring-position (RISP) while Ringgold was held to just 1-for-11 (.091) in the series. North Hall had six hits for nine RBI with RISP against Southeast Bulloch.
“We’re having confidence in that area and it started with our second game against Pace Academy (in the first round).” Mongero said. “That has been the biggest difference for us in the playoffs.”
North Hall is making just its second semifinal appearance ever and is looking for its second trip to the championship series. The Trojans fell to Cartersville in two tight games in the 2013 Class AAA finals.
Calhoun is coming off a tough three-game series win over defending Class AA state champion Lovett in the quarterfinals. As a program the Yellow Jackets are no stranger to the semifinals. They own four state titles as a program (1974, 2000, 2005, 2010) but have not advanced to the semifinals since winning the 2010 Class AA state title.
The win over Lovett in the Elite 8 had to be a sweet measure of revenge for the Yellow Jackets, who were knocked out of the 2012, 2013, and 2014 playoffs by the Lions.
While there are plenty of similarities between the two teams -- both came into the playoffs as lower seeds and have reeled off six road playoff wins to get to the semifinals -- the two teams had different beginnings to the season.
The Jackets started Region 6-AAA play at 1-3 and 2-4 but rallied to win 10 of their last 12 region contests. However, their 0-4 mark against the top two teams, Ringgold and Coahulla Creek, and a split with No. 3 North Murray dropped them to the No. 4 seed.
The Trojans, meanwhile, stormed out of the gates in Region 7-AAA winning their first 11 games and found themselves ranked No. 1 in Class AAA after also navigating a tough non-region schedule to begin the season. But, seemingly coinciding with the ranking recognition, North Hall tumbled to a 1-6 finish in 7-AAA to drop to the No. 3 seed.
Mongero said none of that matters now.
“It’s about who plays better on (Wednesday) and makes the fewest mistakes. Records and streaks don’t mean anything right now. Just need two wins any way you can get them,” he said.
CALHOUN at NORTH HALL
-- 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: Five teams left in the GHSA baseball playoffs have won six road games. Two of them, Calhoun and North Hall, are in Class AAA with Woodstock and Etowah both in AAAAAAA. Johns Creek in AAAAAA and Toombs County in AA are the others. ... Toombs County is a perfect 6-0 with North Hall, Johns Creek and Woodstock all 6-1 in road games in the playoffs. Calhoun is 6-2 and Etowah is 6-3. ... 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 caught fire on the road in the playoffs.
-- WINNER FACES: winner of the Coahulla Creek-Pierce County semifinals in the Class AAA championships series, site TBA