GAINESVILLE, Ga. — North Hall’s mission coming into the Area 8-4A tournament on Saturday was simple: get back to the State Duals for the first time since 2022.
The Trojans executed the plan nearly flawlessly, navigating their way through the Area Duals with two dominating wins and then gutting out a 39-33 win over arch-rival Chestatee at the Lynn Cottrell Center at Chestatee High School as both teams qualified for the 16-team tournament next week.
“We have some spots we need to work on, but overall, I feel really good about this group. They did really well to win this,” North Hall coach Mason Patton said. “When we came in, there were some adjustments trying to figure out who was where. But we got those done, and it’s been a good year.”
It was the second time this season the Trojans knocked off the War Eagles to win a tournament. They beat Chestatee 45-27 in the Hall County Duals.
But Chestatee coach Carey Whitlow also was pleased despite the loss in the finals. It came down to the final two matches, which was a marked improvement over the War Eagles' showing during the Hall County Duals.
“They’re a tough team,” Whitlow said of North Hall. “I’m proud of these guys that they cut it close. It came down to the last two matches, and that’s a good feeling for us.”
The finals saw the two teams trade pins over the first six matches. North Hall got pins at 113-pounds, 126, and 138, while the War Eagles took pins at 120, 132, and 144 to tie the match at 18. But senior Connor Free won a close decision at 150 for North Hall, and junior Landon Martin followed with a pin at 157 to spark four wins over the next five matches for the Trojans.
“When we got to 150, we had some conversations about just being patient,” Patton said. “Our upperclassmen have done a good job for us when we need them to lead.”
Chestatee got a pin at 165 to close the gap to a 27-24 debut. North Hall answered with a pin at 175 and another close decision at 190 to extend the lead to 36-24.
The War Eagles won a decision at 215 to stay alive, but Kamden Merrit toughed out a decision at 285 to seal it for North Hall.
North Hall, the No. 1 seed, got to the finals with a dominating 77-7 win over Cherokee Bluff and then a 48-29 win over Walnut Grove. Chestatee moved to the finals with a 60-18 win over Madison County and then a thrilling 40-36 win over North Oconee, the No. 3 seed, in the semifinals.
That proved to be a pivotal win as North Oconee won its way back through the consolation bracket but could not challenge for a true second based on their loss to the War Eagles.
The two teams to make the State Duals from 8-4A in 2023 -- North Oconee and Chestatee -- met in the semifinals, with the War Eagles taking a hard-fought 40-36 win to move into the finals.
Both North Hall and Chestatee, which finished third overall in 2023, will be among the favorites next week at the Class 4A Duals, which will be held at Chestatee.
Whitlow is hoping that will be an advantage for both teams.
“It’s great that we’re going to have the State Duals right here with two Hall County schools. That means a lot to us. It would have been embarrassing hosting it with no Hall County teams,” Whitlow said. “I think will be a huge advantage for both teams since we can sleep in our own beds and not have to travel.
“We’re excited about the chance. I think both teams have a good shot (at winning the title).”