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Mason sets the table for Gainesville at the top of the order

POSTED: May 3, 2012 9:16 p.m.

Gainesville's Stephen Mason rounds third base April 27 during the Region 8-AAA championship series against North Hall on April 27 at Ivey-Watson Field. The Red Elephants open the playoffs against Heritage-Catoosa at 4 p.m. Friday at Ivey-Watson Field.

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Stephen Mason knows his job is to set the tone for Gainesville at the plate from the lead-off spot. And the rest of his Red Elephants teammates are confident in his ability to get the job done.

“He’s been hitting the ball awesome,” Gainesville senior Ryan Griffith said. “And when Stephen gets on base, we’re confident that we’ll be able to drive him in. He’s the spark plug for everything we do.”

It would be hard to argue with that assessment.

Currently, Mason is hitting a team-high .481 with five home runs and 28 RBIs for the second-ranked Red
Elephants (25-0), who open the Class AAA state playoffs at 4 p.m. today with a doubleheader in a best-of-three series against Heritage-Catoosa (17-7) at Ivey-Watson Field.

As good as Mason’s been this season, he’s coming off possibly his best performances. He had five hits and drove in five runs in the Region 8-AAA championship series against North Hall last Friday.

In the first game, he reached base all four times at the plate, and then in Game 2 had a potential third double taken away on a great diving catch by North Hall’s left fielder.

The timing of his offensive explosion couldn’t be better for Mason as he tries to help Gainesville bring home its first state championship since 2002.

“This is the best I’ve felt hitting the ball all season,” Mason said. “It feels great to be hitting the ball well right now as we go into the playoffs.”

Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said that Mason, who is signed to play next season at Georgia Perimeter College, started his current offensive tear with a grand slam in a come-from-behind 9-3 win against North Hall on April 13 at Ivey-Watson Field.

Mason’s hitting hasn’t let up in the three weeks since.

What impresses Kemp the most with his offensive numbers is his number of RBIs, given he’s coming to bat at least once every game with no runners on.

“Stephen sets the tone for us at the plate,” Kemp said. “He creates a lot of problems for the other team once he gets on base.”

Mason’s high run total comes from the guys hitting behind him.

Junior catcher Skyler Weber hits in the No. 2 hole with the job of moving him into scoring position. That sets the table for Ryan Griffith (.431 avg., 24 RBIs) and clean-up hitter Hunter Anglin (.414 avg., 28 RBIs) to get Mason across the plate.

Last Friday, that included a three-run home run by Anglin in Game 1, and four singles on the night by Griffith, who has stayed above the .400 mark all season, according to Kemp.

Even though Mason will start at Georgia Perimeter next season, Kemp sees his star middle infielder moving on to a larger Division-I program.

“He’s one of the best hitters that I’ve ever coached,” Kemp said. “He’s an incredibly gifted baseball player.”

Having Mason hit in the lead-off spot is also comforting for the dominant Red Elephants pitching staff, which carries a combined 1.60 ERA this season. University of Georgia signee David Gonzalez (8-0, 0.83 ERA) is leading the staff and is expected to start Game 1 today against Heritage-Catoosa, according to Kemp.

Gonzalez is confident that Mason is going to get the ball rolling right away by getting on base.

“I can’t tell you the last time he got out,” said Gonzalez, a projected high-round draft pick in next month’s MLB Draft.


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