Ten games into the 2021 season, the Ringgold Tigers sat at .500 with a 5-5 record, albeit against a brutal non-region slate that featured games against some of the top teams the state had to offer.
And all they did in the 25 games after that was go 24-1 with the lone loss being a 2-0 setback to perennial Class AAAAA state powerhouse Cartersville.
Also included in that impressive run were 22 straight victories over other Class AAA teams, but unfortunately for the Blue-and-White, that streak came to an end on Saturday.
Second-ranked Ringgold had its season ended at home by top-ranked North Hall in the Class AAA state semifinals as the Trojans swept the best-of-three series, 10-2 and 3-1, before a standing-room-only crowd at Bill Womack Field.
"(North Hall) caught the breaks today," Ringgold head coach Drew Walker said. "We hit some balls hard right at some people and they ended up hitting some balls in spots where we weren't. They're a good baseball team, absolutely, and things went their way today, but I'm so proud of this group and the way our seniors led this group since June.
"We went 24-1 after that 5-5 start and that says a lot about those guys and their leadership to keep going. Not many Ringgold teams have started out 5-5 and they could have folded their tent right there, but they pushed through and that shows the hard work, the consistency and leadership that they had."
North Hall (31-5), the Region 7 champion, will go on to face Region 8 champion Franklin County for the state title next week. The Lions got past unranked Appling County, the Region 1 runner-up, 2-1 and 1-0 in their state semifinals series.
Meanwhile, Region 6 champion Ringgold finished its season with a 29-8 record and earned a spot in the classification's Final Four for the sixth time in program history.
North Hall 10, Ringgold 2
The Trojans took advantage of some Tiger errors in the top of the first inning to score four times. Jace Brown would add an RBI-single in the second inning and the visitors would score another run on an error in the fourth inning to go ahead, 6-0.
Ringgold got two of the runs back in the bottom of the fourth. Mason Parker drew a walk and scored ahead of McCain Mangum, who circled the bases on an inside-the-park-homerun.
The Tigers put runners at first and second with two outs in both the fifth and sixth innings, but were unable to plate any more runs, while the Trojans tacked on four final runs in the top of the seventh, one on a Hudson Barnett RBI-double and three on a homer by Bradford Puryear.
Jaret Bales pitched all seven innings for the Trojans, allowing two earned runs on two hits. Bales walked five batters and also finished with five strikeouts, while Puryear finished the game with a team-high four RBIs.
Kenyon Ransom allowed six runs on eight hits, though only two of the runs were earned. He struck out four batters and walked just one in six innings of work. Mason Burt would pitch the seventh inning for the Tigers.
North Hall 3, Ringgold 1
Needing to win Saturday's nightcap in order to extend the series to a Game 3 on Monday, Colin Mountjoy gave the Tigers an early 1-0 lead on a leadoff homerun to centerfield in the top of the second inning. But Bales launched a solo shot to lead off the bottom of the inning and Tate Brooks gave the Trojans a 2-1 lead on a two-out, RBI-single with the bases loaded later in the frame.
Ringgold left two runners on base in the third inning after a walk and a Sam Mills double. Then in the top of the sixth, Parker ripped a one-out double, but a fielder's choice off the bat of Mangum resulted in Parker being called out on a close play, much to the displeasure of the Ringgold faithful.
North Hall followed up a half-inning later with an insurance run as Bales doubled and scored on a two-out, RBI-single by pitcher Eli Reece.
Ransom drew a walk to begin the top of the seventh, but Reece set down the final three Tiger hitters in order to close out the inning, the game and the series. The North Hall pitcher threw a complete game three-hitter, walking two batters and striking out eight.
Chase Ghormley battled during his six innings on the hill for Ringgold. He gave up eight hits and struck out four batters without issuing a walk. All three runs he allowed were earned.
"There's no doubt that we were 100 percent ready for today," Walker added. "Since (last) June, we've been process-driven and results-driven. We have worked our tails off every single day. This is the hardest I've pushed any team in the offseason, and the hardest I've pushed any team in the regular season, and these guys came out here to get better every day.
"It's why I told them (after Game 2) to holds their heads up. This older group is why were here today and I'm proud as heck of those seniors for really setting the tone for the next decade."