GAINESVILLE — It may not mean much as far as standings go, but North Hall’s 3-1 win over North Oconee Tuesday at Cottrell Field will certainly carry a lot of weight confidence-wise.
The Trojans came into the non-region showdown of ranked teams at No. 2 in Class 3A. The Titans have been perched atop Class 4A all season, are considered among the state’s elite and are led by Clemson-commit Bubba Chandler. Plus, the Titans already had bludgeoned North Hall 9-2 in their first meeting back on March 4 in Bogart.
But as they say, that was then, this is now.
“They handled us pretty good in that first meeting and we really didn’t compete very well on any part of the field,” North Hall coach Trevor Flow said. “But I thought tonight the guys did a great job of executing. Hopefully, a win like this will let them know they can play with the upper-echelon teams.”
The win for the Trojans (14-4) was their third straight and snapped North Oconee’s (18-2) nine-game win streak. The one run was a season-low for a Titans offense that came in averaging 10.4 runs a game. The three North Hall runs were one better than the vaunted Titans pitching staff was yielding per game.
Jaret Bales and Eli Reece combined to scatter just six hits and allow only a first-inning RBI single by Chandler on the mound. Bales went four innings allowing two hits and one unearned run while Reece gave up four hits and worked out of a huge jam in the sixth to get the three-inning save. They also held the potent Titans attack to just 1-for-7 with RISP for the game.
“Those two guys were outstanding,” Flow said. “Jaret really kept them off-balance and Eli showed he is really progressing. We’re a young team overall so they need these kinds of games to have the belief that they can get into and out of trouble out there. You have to learn how to compete at this level and the entire team is showing that.”
On offense, the key for North Hall was playing traditional small-ball.
North Oconee starter Joe Waddell set down 9 of the first 10 North Hall batters with five strikeouts. But an uncharacteristic Chandler error on a Jay Johnson grounder to start the fourth inning was just the opening North Hall needed.
Following the error, Jace Bowen was hit by a pitch, and Bales drove in Johnson with an RBI single to the right to tie the game. North Hall then got a pair of back-to-back RBI bunt hits from Reece and Luke Erickson to grab a 3-1 lead. While Bales and Reece were limiting the Titans, the Trojans went 3-for-5 with 3 RBI with RISP in the fourth inning alone.
“We’re not a home run team and I think the guys are finally starting to understand that,” Flow said. “They did a good job of getting the runners on base and they executed to get the runs in.”
That knocked Waddell out after just 3 1/3 innings, yielding all three hits and two earned runs in the one inning. He fanned five and walked none. Stiles Begnaud took over for the Titans and got out of the jam.
Reece then took over for North Hall on the mound in the fifth and worked around a one-out single with a pair of fielder’s choice ground outs.
But the Titans looked poised to mount a huge rally in the sixth. Phillip Ard doubled off the center field wall with one out and moved to third on a wild pitch with Chandler at the plate. But Ard was picked off by Reece at third in a bang-bang play that went the Trojans way.
Chandler singled two pitches later but he and David Wiley, who walked one batter later, were left stranded as Reece got Justin Byrd to ground out to short to end the threat.
In the seventh, Tanner Dempsey singled with two out but Reece struck out Jack Fabris looking to end it.
“This was a huge win for us,” Reece said. “It’s a lot to take in right now. But I feel like we’re starting to show what we can do if we play at our potential.”
North Hall will travel to Duluth on Wednesday before jumping back into Region 7-3A action, opening a huge series with Cherokee Bluff on Monday in Flowery Branch.