Saturday December 9th, 2023 9:15AM

(VIDEO) Playoff baseball: Trojans sweep into AAA championship round

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

GAINESVILLE — It was the kind of day Trent Mongero, and many North Hall fans, felt the Trojans were capable of all season long.

Powered by a pair of complete-game pitching gems, North Hall swept Calhoun 10-1 and 3-0 Wednesday in the Class AAA semifinals at Jody Davis Field to advance to the championship round for the second time in five years.

Junior right-hander Reese Olson tossed a complete-game, three-hitter to earn the win in Game 1 and senior right-hander Corban Meeler followed with a two-hit shutout in Game 2 to clinch the series.

“Probably the two best performances on the mound, back-to-back, we’ve had all year,” a somewhat reserved-looking Mongero stated emphatically, however, afterwards. “They were dominant and gave our offense a chance to do just enough. Just outstanding efforts.”

Mongero’s demeanor only suggested that he was still trying to fathom just how this particular group was able to overcome a nightmarish late-season slide that nearly derailed what had been a dominant first two months of the season. The Trojans lost six of their last seven games overall to fall from first to third place in Region 7-AAA. Then, they blew a lead in their first playoff game against Pace Academy.

They have not lost since, reeling off eight consecutive wins on their march to the championship series.

“They way the regular season ended, when we walked off the field against Dawson County (in the regular season finale), we talked on the bus about what a story we had the opportunity to have,” Mongero said. “It’s just an amazing feeling right now to know we’re in the finals. I feel like I’m in a dream right now.”

Now North Hall (27-11) will get another crack at capturing its first-ever baseball title. The Trojans next week will take on equally-dominant Pierce County, which swept Coahulla Creek in the other semifinal, for the title next week at either Rome or Savannah.

The site will not be determined, according to Georgia High School Association officials, until all the semifinal games in all eight tournament brackets are complete. Several series required Game Threes, which will be held on Thursday.

North Hall lost its only other finals appearance to powerhouse Cartersville in the 2013 Class AAA championship series in a very tough two-game sweep that could have gone either way.

Mongero said the emotions are similar, but his outlook is different this time around.

“(The 2013) team was dominant all year. We didn’t have the ups-and-downs like we did this year,” he said. “This feels a little different just because of how the end of the year went for this group. It takes tremendous effort to get to the finals. It’s not easy. It’s just an amazing feeling for these guys right now.”

Based on his one eye-test of the Trojans, Calhoun coach Chip Henderson said he wouldn't want to bet against them right now..

"I tell you what. They will be tough to beat next week," Henderson said. "They can pitch, they can hit, and they made some outstanding plays on defense. When you can do all those things this time of the year, that usually means good things.

"But, we weren't as sharp as we had been the last couple of rounds, which is a credit to how well North Hall played. They had a lot to do with that. We made too many mistakes and when you get this deep in the playoffs you just can't make mistakes and expect to win. North Hall is a class program and we wish them luck in the finals."

In Game 1, while Olson (12-1) was busy dispatching the first 12 Calhoun batters, the offense jumped on Yellow Jackets starter Brett Potts early and often. Three of the first four North Hall batters reached with Jackson Latty knocking in Taber Mongero, who beat out a high-chopper to start the game, for a 1-0 lead. Charlie Erickson made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly scoring Austin Adams, who had reached on an error.

The Trojans exploded for eight runs combined in the third and fourth innings to blow the game open. Latty knocked in two more with a double and Olson scored on a double play to push it to a 5-0 lead in the third. Mongero, Olson, and Erickson had RBI singles in the fourth and Drew Hubbard capped a five-run inning with a two-run double for a 10-0 lead.

Calhoun (23-15) scored its only run in the fifth on a pair of singles and a miscue in the outfield to keep the game alive. But starting with a double play to get out of the fifth, Olson retired eight of the final nine batters he faced to seal the victory.

In Game 2, North Hall again started fast against Jackson Braden as Mongero reached on an error and then scored on Olson’s RBI hit in the first. The Trojans added a run in the second when Dylan Lavender walked and advanced to second on an infield hit by Mongero. But Braden’s throw to get Mongero at first sailed all way into the rightfield corner allowing Lavender to score to make it 2-0.

In the third, the Trojans made it 3-0 on a bases-loaded walk to John Mark Montgomery.

That would be all Meeler needed. Meeler continued the mound work Olson started in the first game retiring the first six, including a pair of strikeouts to end the second, and 13 of the first 15 Calhoun batters he faced. The only rough spot he faced came in the fifth, when he hit a batter and walked another with one out. But he got Carson Kemp to ground into a double play to end the inning and get out of the jam.

Meeler closed out the game, and the series, retiring the final seven batters overall, including the last two by strikeout.

“The way the defense was playing I was just trying to throw strikes,” said Meeler, who fanned six and walked just the one batter. “It was a great feeling to be able to get that last out. It’s just an amazing feeling to be able to get this chance (of playing for a state title).”

The offense again did not waste its opportunities. After going 8-for-25 (.320) with runners-in-scoring-position against Ringgold in the quarterfinals, North Hall was even better on Wednesday going 9-for-22 (.409) and 12 RBI with RISP against Calhoun.

The Yellow Jackets, meanwhile, were just 1-for-5 with RISP and no RBI in the series.

NOTES: Senior shortstop Taber Mongero continued to assault opposition pitching in the playoffs. He had five hits and scored four runs in the series at the top of the order. He reached base in 6 of his 8 plate appearances. ...     Hubbard has been hot the last two rounds adding four more hits against Calhoun. Latty and Adams had three hits each for the Trojans. ... Calhoun was coming off a shutout victory over Lovett but the Yellow Jackets pitching was touched for 19 North Hall hits in the two games. ... After an error-proned final two weeks of the regular season, the North Hall defense has committed just three errors over its past six games while the offense has exploited the opposition for eight unearned runs in the last two rounds alone.

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