GAINESVILLE — Regardless of what happens Friday in the deciding Game 3 between Lovett and North Hall, Mark Swett and Caden Bales pitched and hit themselves into Trojans lore Thursday night at Jody Davis Field.
Swett tossed 3 2/3 innings of scoreless, hitless ball in relief and Bales drove in two season-saving runs, including the eventual game-winner in the ninth inning, as the Trojans rallied twice for a 7-6 win over the Lions in Game 2, knotting their best-of-three Class 3A second round series.
North Hall faced elimination after suffering a dismal 11-1 loss in six innings in the first game.
The two teams will meet at 6 p.m. at Jody Davis Field to settle it.
North Hall coach Trevor Flow gushed about both players after more than five hours of an emotional rollercoaster ride.
“In series like these you always need someone to step up, and it’s not always who you think it’s going to be,” Flow said. “I can’t say enough about Mark and the job he did. He absolutely dominated when we needed him. And Caden really stepped up. His two hits kept us alive.”
The Trojans (24-6) were reeling after perhaps their most lackluster performance of the season in Game 1, which featured six errors and five unearned runs gifted to the Lions (21-9). They managed just five hits with three of those coming in the final inning.
Flow said now they can put that behind them as they try to capture the rubber game. The Trojans are set up nicely with Georgia Tech-signee Reese Olson, who was pulled after just two innings in the first game to preserve pitch-counts, and Swett both available.
“I’m not sure who we will start but probably everyone but Caleb (Clark) is available to pitch,” Flow said. “We took Reese out with the thought of Game 3 in mind. Both he and Mark could go around 60 pitches if needed. We feel good about it.”
Swett, a senior, took over for Clark in Game 2 after the Lions had taken a 6-5 lead. He retired 10 of the 11 batters he faced with two strikeouts. The only batter to reach did so on an error on a bad hop at short. He said he pitched like it would be his final time in a Trojans uniform.
“I knew it might be so I just tried to stay focused and give it everything I had,” Swett said. “Now I feel like we have the momentum. I’m ready to go back out there if I’m needed.”
For Bales, he overcame a hitless Game 1 to hammer a pair of RBI doubles off the right field wall in Game 2, the first one in the seventh with two outs to tie the game at 6-6 and the second in the ninth with one out to give them the lead.
GAME 1: LOVETT 11, NORTH HALL 1 (6 innings)
Lions starter Ben O'Meara (7-1) and the North Hall defense were the stories in the opening game. It also snapped the Trojans’ 11-game playoff win streak going back to the opening round of the 2017 playoffs.
O’Meara limited the Trojans offense, which came in averaging over seven runs a game, to just the one run on five hits. Meanwhile, the North Hall defense gave no help to Olson (7-2), committing five errors in his two innings of work (2IP, 4H, 3BB, 2K, 6R, 1ER) leading to five unearned runs.
Lovett scored in every inning except the fifth. Olson got Evan McKnown to ground out to open game. But the Trojans starter walked the next two batters and after a strikeout of Will Seiler, the Lions plated a run on a RBI single by Charles Gibson. It could have been bigger but the Trojans executed a perfect relay on the play to gun down Robert Poindexter at plate to end inning.
North Hall seemed ready to answer in the bottom of the first as Olson singled and Charlie Erickson was hit by a pitch with two out. But both were left stranded as Jackson Dyer grounded out to end the inning.
A nightmare second inning doomed the Trojans. Lovett took advantage of four huge North Hall fielding miscues to pull away for a 6-0 lead. The only RBI in the inning came on a groundout by Seiler as Lovett scored three runs on errors alone.
Kelton Kieschnick took over to start the third for North Hall. Peyton Ringer greeted him with a one-out home run to left for a 7-0 lead. In the bottom of the inning Caleb Clark was hit by a pitch and David Seavey reached on an error with one out but Olson popped up and Erickson struck out to end the inning.
Lovett continued to add on in the fourth touching Kieschnick for two runs on three hits for a 9-0 lead. The Lions invoked the Mercy Rule in the sixth as Seiler doubled in McKnown and Beavor for an 11-0 lead.
The North Hall offense finally got to O'Meara banging out three hits, including an RBI single by Caleb Wiley scoring courtesy-runner Wes Tadman to trail 11-1, but O’Meara (6IP, 5H, 1BB, 5K, 1R, 1ER) got the final two batters to wrap up the complete-game victory.
GAME 2: NORTH HALL 7, LOVETT 6 (9 innings)
North Hall pounded out 17 hits against three Lovett hurlers but still needed Bales’s two clutch hits to pull out the win.
Lions starter Dhruv Patel set down the Trojans in order in the top of the first but eventually allowed four runs on seven hits in just 4 innings of work. Wyatt Nelson took the loss, allowing 2 runs on 7 hits in 2 innings in relief.
It also was not the beginning North Hall starter Caleb Clark and the Trojans wanted as he walked the lead off batter on four pitches. Beavor followed with a single to right and Poindexter drove in McKnown on a fielder’s choice. Gibson followed with a sacrifice fly scoring Poindexter for a 2-0 Lovett lead.
Erickson led off the second for North Hall with a double to left and courtesy-runner Brock Cooper later scored on a RBI single by Tyler Brooks. But they left Brooks stranded at third.
The Lions answered quickly as Ringer tripled to right-center and came in on a throwing error on the play to extend the lead to 3-1. Clark then walked Grayson Nix and and hit Nelson with no one out. But in what turned out to be a key sequence, Clark got McKnown on a pop up to second, fanned Beavor, and got Poindexter to fly out to right to end the inning and limit the damage.
In the top of the third, Clark and Seavey reached with one out and Olson followed with an infield single to load the bases. The Trojans tied the game at 3-3 on a fielder’s choice by Erickson and a Lovett error on the play.
Clark eventually settled in, retiring nine of the next 11 Lovett batters through the fourth inning. That also got the offense fired up again as Brooks and Dylan Willey singled and Clark brought in Brooks on a fielder’s choice for a 4-3 lead.
The Trojans in Game 2 went a blistering 8-of-18 with RISP with 5 RBI after managing just one hit in seven at bats with RISP in the first game.
Nix came on to pitch for the Lions to start the fifth, and North Hall created some two-out damage as Dyer singled, Caleb Wiley walked, and Brooks drove in Dyer with a single to center for a 5-3 lead. Things looked good for the Trojans with just six outs left.
But Lovett again got some help from the Trojans as Poindexter reached on an error to open the bottom of the fifth. He would score on a double by Gibson, who came in to tie game at 5-5 on a RBI single by Ringer with two outs as both runs were unearned. Lovett reclaimed the lead 6-5 on a RBI hit by Beavor in the bottom of the sixth.
In the seventh, Dyer greeted Nelson by beating out an infield hit. Nelson would fan Caleb Wiley and Brooks but Dyer stole second and Bales tied the game with his first clutch RBI double.
In the ninth, Caleb Wiley stroked a leadoff single and moved all the way around to third with no outs on a wild pitch. After a Brooks groundout Bales doubled in Wiley for a 7-6 North Hall lead.
After a rough showing for most of the night, the Trojans defense sealed the win, turning a double play to end the game and send the series to a Game 3.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a group of guys I’ve coached than this one,” Flow said. “They never laid down and never quit even when things weren’t going their way. They just kept battling and made something happen.”