GAINESVILLE — Everyone’s back should hurt that much.
North Hall’s Kelton Kieschnick, battling a back injury that kept him out of the Trojans’ first two games against Westminster in their best-of-three second round series, put in one of the gutsiest performances of the 2019 season Friday night.
The senior pitcher, who hurt his back during a weight-training drill earlier in the week, scattered three hits and allowed just one unearned run to pace the Trojans to a stunning 8-1 rout of the 2018 Class 3A state runner-up Wildcats in the deciding Game 3 at Jody Davis Field.
“He was a game-time decision and he said he could go so we gave him a shot,” North Hall coach Trevor Flow said. “Just an impressive outing, especially after we really didn’t think we would have him for this series.”
The victory gave the Trojans (19-14) the 2-1 series win. Westminster (18-15) won the first game, 4-2, in 10 innings while the Trojans answered with a 13-5 blowout win in Game 2.
North Hall next will travel to Baxley to take on Region 2-3A champion Appling County in the quarterfinal round.
Kieschnick’s injury, coupled with ace Caleb Clark still unable to pitch due to a shoulder issue, looked to be a daunting blow for the Trojans even before the series began. Few teams can overcome the loss of their No. 1 pitcher. But to lose your top two hurlers?
Few around the state and area gave the Trojans (19-14) much of a chance against a Wildcats squad that took down No. 1 Jefferson the week before. But for the second consecutive series Jackson Dyer, Wes Tadman, and Kieschnick picked up the slack in Clark’s absence.
They yielded just three runs in the opening series against Coahulla Creek and just eight runs against a Wildcats offense that came in averaging 6.5 runs a game.
“These kids just keep coming through without us having our No. 1 pitcher,” Flow said. “Everyone keeps counting us out but these guys just fight for each other and never quit. They are an amazing group to be around.”
Kieschnick set the Wildcats down in order in the first and the North Hall offense created some two-out magic. Caleb Wiley walked, Dyer singled to left, and Wiley came around to score on a wild pitch and a throwing error by the Westminster catcher for a 1-0 lead.
The Wildcats answered right back in the second with an unearned run as Will Lybrook knocked in Will Hallmark, who had advanced to third on an errant pickoff attempt, to tie the game at 1.
The defense helped Kieschnick out in the third gunning down a runner at third and shortstop Caleb Wiley making a nice play up the middle to throw out a runner at first to end the inning with a pair of runners on base.
In the bottom of the third Dyer gave North Hall a 2-1 lead driving in Clark with an RBI groundout. The Trojans blew it open in the fifth scoring three runs on three hits, an error, and a passed ball to push the lead to 5-1. Clark, Ty Brooks, and Caleb Wiley all reached on infield hits. Brooks drove in Clark with the Wildcats infield drawn in. Brooks scored on a throwing error and Wiley scored on a passed ball.
North Hall continued to pour it on in the sixth as Ty Brooks knocked in courtesy-runner Jay Johnson and Clark on a double to left. After Caleb Wiley was plunked, Dyer brought in Ty Brooks for an 8-1 lead.
That would be the final batter Westminster starter Edward Shores faced. Shores went 5 1/3 surrendering 11 hits, hitting three batters, and giving up eight runs.
“We did a great job of hitting with two strikes and just putting the ball in play and getting some hits in some big situations,” Flow said.
The top of the North Hall order -- Clark, Ty Brooks, Dyer -- combined for seven hits, three RBI, and scored all eight runs.
After the third, Kieschnick settled in. He retired 12 of the last 15 Westminster batters with only an intentional walk to University of Georgia-commit Parks Harber in the fifth and an error each in the sixth and seventh innings.
“My back felt great, really,” Kieschnick said. “I just worked it out during the week. I knew I would have to fight through it a little and I was able to do that. I just tried to keep the ball down.”
But Kieschnick, who did not play in the field or bat as well in Thursday’s doubleheader, said it was an uncomfortable feeling knowing that his final season could end without him being able to contribute.
“It was hard to watch (on Thursday) for sure,” he said. “We lost the first game so I wondered if my last season would end without me being able to play. That was tough.
“But I knew the guys would pick me up in that second game and hopefully I would be able to go today. Thankfully it worked out.”
Now the Trojans, who head to Appling County looking for their second semifinal appearance in the last three seasons, will see if they can keep the magic brewing for one more week.
“Appling County is always good. They’re one of those south Georgia programs that is always there,” Flow said. “They’ll have good pitching I’m sure. I expect it’s going to be another a tough battle. But even though we’re playing a lot of young guys right now, they’re getting some great experience and stepping up.
“Right now, I don’t know if I’d bet against this group the way they are playing right now. Just a scrappy, scrappy bunch.”