GAINESVILLE — “The goal is a region title and it still exists,” an obviously dejected North Hall baseball coach Trevor Flow said Friday following a disappointing 9-5 Region 7-3A loss to Greater Atlanta Christian at Jody Davis Field.
The Trojans (18-5, 13-2 Region 7-3A) came into the series finale with the Spartans needing just one win to wrap up their first region championship since 2013. They held a 3-1 lead going into the fifth and then a 4-3 lead going to the seventh.
But they could not hold either and instead watched as the Spartans (17-8, 11-4) scored two runs on a bad-hop single to tie the game in the fifth and then explode for six runs in the top of the seventh against reliever Charlie Erickson, who just two days before had blanked the GAC offense to preserve a Game 2 win.
However, Flow was quick to remind that they still control their own destiny. They open up a regular season-ending three-game series on Monday at home against Dawson County.
“This was a tough one from the standpoint that we had the lead twice and had chances to put the game away and didn’t,” Flow said. “But it also doesn’t really hurt us that much. If we win two against Dawson it doesn’t matter what anyone else does. That’s what we talked about afterwards; just taking care of our business.”
The Trojans’ magic number to clinch the title is two, any combination of North Hall wins and GAC losses. The Spartans take on Lumpkin County (11-13, 4-11) next week to close out the season. The Indians have won two straight.
It wasn’t a classic pitcher’s duel but both North Hall starter Mark Swett and GAC starter Jake Johnson battled in and out of trouble through the first six innings. Swett allowed just three runs on seven hits and stranded six GAC baserunners. Johnson went 6 1/3 innings yielding four runs on nine hits, walked four, and hit two batters, But Johnson stranded 10 North Hall baserunners, seven in scoring position and got the win after the Spartans’ seventh-inning onslaught.
“Mark got himself in trouble but also got himself out of trouble most of the time. He gave us a chance to win and that’s all you can ask,” Flow said. “The problem right now is that we’re just leaving too many guys on base.”
Swett got Shane Lussier to pop to short on the first pitch of the game but the Spartans responded with a double and single for a quick 1-0 lead. However, on Campbell Pryor’s RBI hit, Pryor was gunned down at second and then Swett got Sam Johnson to line out to second to end the inning with no further damage.
The North Hall offense went to work in the bottom of the inning. Caleb Clark reached on an error, Reese Olson beat out an infield single, and Erickson ripped a 2-run double to center for a 2-1 lead. One out later Caleb Wiley doubled in courtesy-runner Wes Tadmon for a 3-1 lead.
Both pitchers worked out of jams over the next two innings. Johnson got Olson to fly out to center with two runners to end the second and stranded two more North Hall runners in the third getting Caden Bales to fly out to center. In the fourth Clark reached on a fielder’s choice and moved to second on a wild pitch. But again Johnson wiggled out of trouble striking out David Seavy and getting Olson to fly to center.
After going 2 for 4 with RISP in the first inning, North Hall was 0 for 5 from the second to the fourth leaving five runners on base, four in scoring position.
Swett walked two batters in the third inning but fanned Sam Johnson with to get out of the inning. He worked around a leadoff double by Zac Mixon in the fourth getting a ground out and then striking out Sam Collins and Jack Coyle to end the threat.
However, Swett was victim of some tough luck in the fifth. After getting two quick outs, Taylor singled, Pryor walked, and Swett plunked Sam Johnson to load the bases. Swett looked to get out of the inning unscathed with a ground ball to third but it took a bad hop off the shoulder of Olson and Taylor and Pryor came around to score and tie the game 3-3.
In the sixth Swett got help from his defense as they turned a huge double play to get out of the inning.
North Hall reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the sixth when Bales doubled and scored on a double by Clark. But the Trojans could not add on despite having runners at first and third with no one out. A failed attempted squeeze play saw Dylan Wiley get tagged out between third and home and then later Jackson Dyer struck out with the bases loaded.
“We got away a little bit at the plate of what we normally do,” Flow said. “This is still a young team when it comes to playoff atmosphere and that’s what this game had. Better to learn these lessons now than in the playoffs when the season is on the line.”
Erickson then came on to pitch the seventh for the Trojans to try and nail down the region title. The Spartans, however, tagged the senior right-hander for four hits and a hit batter to score six times, the big blow a bases-clearing single by Conner Pellegrini to open a 9-4 lead.
North Hall got a run back in the bottom of the seventh on a RBI single by Clark and had a chance to get the tying run to the plate in Olson. But Seavy struck out to end the game with runners at second and third.