GAINESVILLE — Thinking about it brings a smile to the lips of Trevor Flow every time.
“Just an incredible, almost surreal feeling,” Flow said as he recalled the final out of the 2017 season that gave North Hall its first-ever state championship in baseball. “It still seems like yesterday really -- a moment I’ll never forget.”
However, that is exactly what Flow, who has taken over the reins of Trojans baseball from the departed Trent Mongero, is asking of what will be a very inexperienced Trojans squad, as they look to repeat as state champions.
To lead by example Flow said he has shelved his 2017 title ring for the time being.
The Trojans return just two players -- senior and Georgia Tech signee Reese Olson and senior Charlie Erickson -- from last year’s championship team that swept No. 1 Pierce County 9-2 and 6-0 in the Class AAA finals in Savannah. Other than the pitcher and catcher, respectively, the rest of the North Hall projected opening day roster features fewer than 15 total at-bats and less than 14 total innings played at the varsity level.
“This is basically a totally new group. Only Reese and Charlie, Caleb (Clark) some early last year, saw any significant time on the field,” Flow said. “A lot of the kids were in the dugout during the playoffs so they were along for the ride. Playing-wise, though, we're just very inexperienced.
“I showed them the ring and then put it away. I told them to forget about last year. People say we’re trying to defend a title but the way I see it is that team is gone. That team won’t get a chance to defend anything. This is a whole new team.”
However, Flow acknowledged that the rest of Region 7-AAA and the state won’t be looking at it that way. And he knows they will be given no quarter.
“We talked about that. These kids understand that they will be looked at as last year’s team,” he said. “But Reese and Charlie have shown a lot of leadership so far in helping the newcomers prepare and get ready for the season. The guys know that every team, every game we’re going to get everyone’s best punch. There will be no easy games for us.”
Which is why Flow assembled a tough non-region schedule to help fast-track his group’s preparation for a potentially-grueling Region 7-AAA schedule. The Trojans managed just a third-place finish last season in region play before reeling off 10-straight playoff wins to capture the crown.
They open on Wednesday against Flowery Branch, which features a solid group led by a pair of sophomore lefthanders. The marquee matchup could be Feb. 22 when they play host to Forsyth Central in what many are hoping is a pitching duel between Olson and the Bulldogs’ Ethan Hankins, one of the nation’s top prospects and a Vanderbilt-signee.
They also have road games at Class 7A West Forsyth and South Forsyth before diving into the region schedule, which will be tougher than ever thanks to opponents like East Hall, Union County and Lumpkin County expecting major improvements, along with 2017 playoff teams Greater Atlanta Christian, Dawson County, and Fannin County.
North Hall's projected lineup, after Olson (13-1, 1.40 ERA, Class AAA Co-player of the Year) and Erickson, will feature Clark, a junior, in right field and as the No. 2 starter. Junior David Seavey will be in left, junior Dylan Wiley in center, junior Caleb Wiley at shortstop, junior Kelton Kieschnick at second base, sophomore Jackson Dyer at first, sophomore Tyler Brooks at third when Olson pitches, and sophomore Caden Bales will likely act as designated hitter.
“I wanted us to be challenged early and often,” Flow said. “We’re so inexperienced they need it to help them get ready, and we need it as coaches to see what we have. I have a projected lineup but we’ll evaluate a lot once the season gets going.”
The Trojans’ 2017 title was built on pitching and defense. They hit just .299 (low by high school standards for championship teams) and hit just three home runs the entire season as a team. Flow said this year’s team already has a different makeup at the plate and thinks, in time, they could be a better offensive team than last year.
“I think we could have more power just because we didn’t hit that many home runs last year. We have the ability to be a better hitting team with all around better team speed. But, again, the inexperience will be a key factor,” he said.
This is not Flow’s first go-around as head coach. He spent two seasons guiding Stephens County before Mongero, who is now at Glynn Academy, enticed him to join the North Hall staff as pitching coach. The familiarity for all parties involved should make it a smooth transition.
“Trent taught me a lot about the administration of how to run a program and that has been invaluable,” he said. “This is my sixth year with the program. I’ve watched these kids come through the system. We have a good idea of what they can do but you never truly know until you get out on the field and play at the highest level. I think the kids know what to expect of me.”
Flow already has one distinction to his name that no other North Hall coach, so far, has been able to claim. And it was a direct result of their championship run last season.
“We had 21 eighth-graders show up for tryouts. That’s the largest number in the history of the program I’ve been told,” he said. “It was tremendous to see that many kids come out and want to be a part of the program. However, it also meant I am now the coach that has had the luxury of having to make the most cuts in the history of the program. That’s the tough part.
“The title has helped the program with exposure. That’s always a good thing. We’re going to try and use that to help us build it even more.”
Which brings it back to the inexperience question that the Trojans face. Will they have enough to be able to compete for a playoff spot in what is expected to be an even tougher 7-AAA than last year?
“This team has talent. I think we can surprise some people but there are a lot of unknowns as we talk (now),” Flow said. “We expect ourselves to win and be in the playoff race. The biggest question is our overall inexperience. If they can get that early in the non-region schedule and improve, I think we’ll be right there.”