SAVANNAH — Taber Mongero's wince quickly gave way to a broad smile.
"My back is hurting pretty good right now -- but it's a good pain to have," said the North Hall senior shortstop.
Mongero found himself at the bottom of a dog pile on Thursday -- on the receiving end of years worth of hard work turned to the realization of historic glory.
The Trojans baseball team clinched its first ever state championship, sweeping past Pierce County in the Class AAA title series at Savannah's Grayson Stadium via 9-2 and 6-5 victories that touched off wild celebrations on the field.
"This is just the best feeling in the world," Mongero said. "Our team worked so hard starting back in August -- even longer than that, for four years really. And to see it all paid off is just amazing."
Drew Hubbard's crown-sealing put out, a routine pop fly to left field in Game 2 carried with it plenty of weight.
"I had dreamt about it so many times; I wasn't really thinking about anything -- just squeeze the ball and the rest is history," Hubbard said. "We had never won state before, so this was for that 2013 team that came so close and all the studs that came before us."
After finishing as state runners-up in 2013, North Hall left no doubt this time around, opening the title series with a dominant Game 1 performance that included a complete game from Reese Olson (2 runs, 7 hits, 3 strikeouts, 1 walk) and nine hits off of four Bears pitchers. The victory was the first playoff setback of the postseason for Pierce County and set the stage for a nail-biting Game 2 that saw the Trojans (29-11) run out to a 6-0 lead before the Bears (28-9) clawed their way back into the contest.
Yet Corban Meeler would not turn loose of the advantage, putting together his own complete game (5 runs, 7 hits, 6 strikeouts, 3 walks) to help hand the Trojans the title.
"I just tried to do my best and go out there and compete," Meeler said. "That's what coach told me to do, and that's all I tried to do. This just feels amazing."
Both North Hall pitchers were backed by strong days at the plate from teammates, including Jackson Latty, who finished the series 6 for 8 with four RBI. Mongero also went 4 for 6 with a double, RBI and four runs scored, while Olson also went 4 for 8 with 4 RBI.
"Everything we had to do to win that game we did," North Hall coach Trent Mongero said. "Reese and Corban both delivered today and pitched amazing. It was a beautiful thing to watch. And then we also played fundamental baseball and kept the pressure on them.
"Coming into the series everything we heard about Pierce was that they were almost unbeatable; it would be the best pitching we saw all year. But we just kept doing what we had been doing. The best team wins, not always the best talent. You have to have a group that buys in and knows their roles, and that's exactly what this team did."
The victories put an unforgettable finish to a roller coaster April and May that saw North Hall lose six of seven contests to end the regular season and then Game 1 of their first round series at Pace Academy. The Trojans responded with 10 straight wins to clinch the crown.
"We were preseason No. 1, but I told all the guys the only ranking that matters is the one at the end of the season -- and look where we are now, No. 1," Trent Mongero said.
GAME 1: North Hall 9, Pierce County 2
The Trojans pounced on the Bears from the start, putting up three runs in the bottom of the first -- thanks to Olson it was all they needed.
The North Hall starter kept Pierce off-balance throughout, pitching a complete game in earning his 13th win of the season. He yielded just seven hits on the mound and stranded nine Bears runners.
Olson also dominated at the plate, finishing 3 for 4 with three RBI and two runs scored. Latty also starred, racking up three hits and three RBI of his own.
"That was the most focused I've ever been for a game," Olson said.
Trojans senior Taber Mongero also provided plenty of key moments, scoring three runs while going 2 for 2. The shortstop doubled to lead off the contest, setting the tone for an impressive opener for North Hall.
Pierce County pulled a run back to make it 3-1 in the second, but the Trojans fired right back with two runs in the third thanks to a two-run single from Latty that plated Mongero and Austin Adams to make it 5-1.
The Bears added one more run in the fifth, only to watch North Hall respond with four runs in the sixth to seal the victory.
North Hall chased Pierce starter Cody Grant in the third inning after he yielded five runs on six hits and a walk. The Trojans faced four different pitchers during the game, putting up nine hits.
GAME 2: North Hall 6, Pierce County 5
The Trojans blitzed the Bears for six runs in the top of the third, as Olson, Latty, Hubbard, Wesley Smith, Dylan Lavender and Taber Mongero each drove in runs.
But the Bears shook off their Game 1 shell-shock and fired right back with three runs in third and one more in the fourth to make it 6-4, as Klay Allen and Stetson Bennett each provided RBI hits.
Yet the Trojans remained calm on the field, utilizing a 5-2-3 double play in the fourth to halt the rally and maintain their advantage.
From there Meeler settled back in and allowed just one hit the rest of the way -- an RBI double from Walker Sinclair that made it 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh. But with two outs already on the board, Meeler and the Trojans were not about to let a ring slip from their grasp.
"I know I missed some spots, but I just told myself to get the ball back down and I did, and my defense was working hard behind me," Meeler said. "To have your whole team running at you at the end of the game was just unreal."
"Corban's a great pitcher, and he did a great job," Olson said. "We just tried to keep working and doing what we had been doing all through the playoffs, and it worked for us."
The younger brother of Griffin Olson, a star on the 2013 team that finished runners-up, Reese Olson knew exactly what Saturday's performance meant to the entire Trojans program.
"I've been playing with these guys since I was eight; this is just incredible," Olson said, adding with a grin, "I've got bragging rights for the rest of my life."