Photo: Brian Kamer North Gwinnett outfielder Cody Short (15) stretches out for fly ball hit deep to left field during Friday's game at Brookwood.
On the surface, North Gwinnett's 2012 varsity baseball season seems like a tale of two different seasons.
The best of times came as the Bulldogs started out 14-3 and seemed poised to play for the Region 7-AAAAA championship after standing at 16-5 overall with just two weeks to play.
That was followed by the worst of times, represented by a five-game losing streak to end the regular season and a stretch that saw them drop 9 of their last 12 games, with five of those losses coming by a single run.
"We started off strong this year, and in the past, we've kind done it in reverse," North coach Frank Vashaw said. "I guess that might make the season appear to be a letdown. We just had a hard time hanging on to leads and finishing games down the stretch."
But Vashaw also believes there is more to team's 17-12 mark that saw North advance to the Class AAAAA state playoffs for the seventh straight season -- where they fell in an exciting three-game series to Brookwood -- to join Mill Creek and Parkview as the only three teams in Gwinnett County to accomplish that feat.
The Bulldogs' accomplishments are all the more impressive considering the number of new starters in the line-up, including several underclassmen who came through in important spots.
Upperclassmen like seniors Ryan Hagan (.364, 1 HR, 14 RBIs, 15 SB), Cole Willoughby (.352, 3 HR, 17 RBIs, 11 SB, 1.102 OPS), Alex Kimble (.326, 13 RBIs), Noah Ford (.299, 1 HR, 12 RBIs) and Danny Parry (4-4, 3 saves, 2.44 ERA, 29 K, 28 IP) and junior Jordan Brown (3-2, 2.13 ERA, 26 K, 42 IP) played major roles this season.
But North also got plenty of contributions from youngsters like sophomore Tucker Baca (6-2, 1.83 ERA, 56 K, 68 IP) and freshmen J.D. Dutka (.284, 8 RBIs) and Ben Carswell (.268, 6 RBIs) were equally critical in keeping the Bulldogs in playoff contention.
"There's something to be said about developing a culture of where the expectation of success is there," Vashaw said. "We've been able to advance to the playoffs and be competitive in the playoffs. ... Our kids have bought into the idea that we expect to compete.
"I'm so proud of some kids who worked hard (during the offseason), and it showed. Guys like Tucker Baca, who became the ace of our (pitching) staff. And Ryan Hagan. It was good to see him put it all together this year. And we started two freshmen, and they didn't start because we didn't have anybody else, but because they were the best players we had at those positions."
So, while there was plenty for the Bulldogs to be proud of and disappointed in 2012, Vashaw is confident the returning players will use this season as a building block to try to get back to the postseason next year, and perhaps go even deeper into the playoffs.
"From a coaching standpoint, I'm disappointed we didn't do a better job of recognizing things we needed to (down the stretch)," Vashaw said. "But at the same time, you have to take your hat off to the other teams we played. It's also indicative of our region.
"But I'm most proud of the way we continue to compete and work hard."