GAINESVILLE — And the freshmen shall lead them.
Jaret Bales, making just his second start ever, and catcher Tate Brooks sparked a three-run fifth inning rally that helped propel North Hall to a 3-0 win over Coahulla Creek Thursday in the deciding Game 3 of the two teams’ best-of-three Class 3A first round series at Jody Davis Field.
Bales singled to lead off the pivotal inning, and after a Kelton Kieschnick sacrifice bunt, Brooks came up with a chance to break a scoreless tie that was beginning to create more than just a little tension. To add to the drama, it was the exact same scenario Brooks faced in the third, which ended in a lineout to first.
“I got a little wider in my stance the second time and just tried to relax,” Brooks said.
Brooks lofted a deep fly down the left field line that hung in the air for what seemed as long as a Pink Floyd album side before landing inches fair as Bales scored what would be all junior starter Wes Tadman needed.
“I thought it was going to go foul,” Brooks said. “When I saw it hit dirt and stay fair, it was just a great feeling.”
Tadman was the third North Hall pitcher in the series to go the distance, scattering two hits, walking just one, and striking out four. The Trojans staff gave up just three runs in the series without having their ace, Caleb Clark, available to throw a single pitch.
“Just adversity after adversity after adversity this year so for this group to perform they way they did, that’s big,” North Hall coach Trevor Flow said. “I can’t say enough about Wes Tadman and how he battled and threw strikes. The way he was pitching I told the guys just get us one and we’ll win it.”
Tadman was in control nearly from the beginning. He needed just 32 pitches to get through the first three innings and worked around a two-out error in the first and a two-out single in the third.
Coahulla Creek’s Michael King was equally tough early setting down the first six North Hall batters. Bales broke up the streak to open the bottom of the third with a single to center and King worked out of a big jam in the fourth to keep it scoreless.
In the fourth, North Hall got a pair of one-out singles from Ty Brooks and Jackson Dyer. But King got Bradford Puryear on a long fly ball to center and Dylan Wiley popped out to end the inning. The Trojans stranded three runners, two in scoring position, and were 0-for-4 with RISP in the two innings with a chance to take the lead.
King surrendered seven hits and walked one but did not strike out a batter after the Trojans fanned 19 times in the first two games of the series.
Tadman’s only real threat came in the top of the fifth as he worked out of a jam stranding a pair runners.
“I felt pretty good in the first two innings for sure,” Tadman said. “I just focused on throwing strikes.”
The offense used that momentum to finally break through in the bottom of the inning as they batted around. They weren’t done after Brooks knocked in Bales.
Ty Brooks walked, Caleb Wiley then was plunked, and Dyer beat out an infield hit to knock in courtesy-runner Jay Johnson to make it 2-0. The next batter, Puryear, made it 3-0 as Wiley beat out a slow-roller at third as Ty Brooks scored. They were 3-of-5 and had 3 RBI with RISP in the fifth inning.
North Hall (17-13) moves on to the second round and will get a chance to continue its run at home against Westminster after the Wildcats took down No. 1 Jefferson in their Game 3 finale, 5-4, in Jefferson.
“We really didn’t care who it was because we knew both teams would be tough. But we’d rather be at home for sure,” Flow said.
Tadman said now that the young group has had a taste of the playoffs, they aren’t satisfied.
“This was a big win for us,” Tadman said. “If we can keep this momentum going, I think we can shock some people.”
North Hall won the first game on Wednesday, 8-1, while the Colts responded with a 2-1 victory in Game 2 to send it to a Game 3.