On Monday, North Hall will continue its quest for something no Hall County baseball team has done since 2001 -- repeat as state champions.
Gainesville won back-to-back Class 3A state titles in 2000 and 2001. The Trojans won 3A titles in 2017 and in 2021. The defending state champions head to Pike County for a three-game series on Monday in the Class 3A semifinals.
First pitch in Zebulon is set for 4:30 p.m. with a doubleheader. A Game 3 is scheduled for Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., if necessary.
Commerce is also chasing history as the Tigers look to advance to their first-ever state finals in Class A Public.
(Check below for first pitch times and days for both series.)
For North Hall, it’s a matchup of the last two Class 3A champions. The Pirates claimed the 2019 title. There were no playoffs in 2020 due to COVID.
North Hall coach Trevor Flow is expecting nothing less than a battle from the opening pitch. The Trojans (32-5) are coming off an impressive road sweep of Harlem (7-4 and 3-2) while Pike County also is 32-5 after holding off GAC in three games.
The series may come down to who wins the clutch one-on-one battles at the plate, not to mention cutting down on mistakes.
“I think that our ability to compete at the plate will be the difference,” Flow said. “Two-out and two-strike hitting, battling to drive pitch counts up, and doing little things to get their pitchers out of their comfort zones. Those guys are good and our guys are good, so defensively we have to limit mistakes to shorten the game on our end and extend it at the plate.”
In 2021, North Hall dominated in three home series as they advanced to the finals. Monday will be the second consecutive long road trip for the Trojans. Flow said both paths have their advantages.
“When you play at home, you are on familiar ground and it presents a certain comfort level. But sometimes that can allow you to become complacent,” he said. “On the road, as long as the field doesn't present a problem, I think you just go and play baseball. Playing on a Monday allows us to have a little less rushed schedule.
“I also think that road trips create awesome memories. Our fans travel incredibly well so it will be an awesome environment no matter what.”
Despite both teams’ recent success, most of the Trojans roster returned from last season’s title run. Will that make a difference?
“There is no substitute for experience,” Flow said. “The battle you fight is complacency, but I think the adversity that we faced in the Appling County series [a tight 2-1 series win] was good for us in retrospect. If you can't get ready for Final Four playoff baseball and be ready to compete, then there's not much we can do for you (at this point).The guys know what it takes and we will have to play really well.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers (26-12) improved to 3-0 in elimination games in the 2022 playoffs with an 8-5 win over Emanuel County Institute in a deciding third game in the quarterfinals. They took down No. 4 Irwin County in the second round
The semifinals figures to be even tougher as they travel to third-ranked Metter to take on the defending Class A Public state champions, who are a perfect 6-0 in the playoffs and have allowed just 8 total runs.
The Commerce offense, however, is averaging 7.6 runs/game in the playoffs.
Commerce has never advanced to a state championship series in baseball and are in the semifinals for the first time since 1996.
SEMIFINAL ROUND BASEBALL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
(All series are best-of-3 at home of higher seed)
(Game 3s start at 5:55 p.m. unless otherwise noted)
MONDAY, MAY 16
North Hall (R7, S1) at Pike County (R2, S1) (DH), 4:30 p.m.
Class A Public
Commerce (R8, S1) at Metter (R3, S1) (DH), 3:30 p.m.
TUESDAY, MAY 17
North Hall (R7, S1) at Pike County (R2, S1) (Game 3, if necessary), 4:30 p.m.
Class A Public
Commerce (R8, S1) at Metter (R3, S1) (Game 3, if necessary), 2:30 p.m.
(Area teams listed in BOLD)