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Gainesville to compete in USA Baseball national showcase tournament

POSTED: March 25, 2014 6:16 p.m.

Gainesville’s baseball team is taking a break from the early challenges of region play to compete against some of the top high school talent the country has to offer.

Less than 14 hours after claiming a come-from-behind 4-3 win over rival Flowery Branch on Monday, the Red Elephants (8-2) loaded a bus Tuesday morning and headed for Cary, N.C., where they will compete in the 16-team USA Baseball National High School Invitational.

There, the Red Elephants will face some of the nation’s best teams and top players in a single-elimination championship-style tournament.

“It is a huge honor to be invited,” Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said. “They invited who they think to be the top teams in the nation, so it is an honor for them to think that of our program. We’re proud to be invited.”

The Invitational will feature eight of the nation’s top 25 ranked teams, and eight of the top 50 high school baseball prospects, many of whom might possibly hear their name called in June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft. That list includes Gainesville pitcher and outfielder Michael Gettys.

It’s an opportunity for teams, coming from as far west as Colorado and California, to compete against other premier programs in the nation, while giving the players a once-in-a-lifetime experience at playing at the training home of USA Baseball.

“It should be fun,” Gettys said. “It should make us better as a team because we’re playing the best competition. So we should only get better.”

Gainesville’s first game will come Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. against Venice (Fla.), which stands with a 12-2 record and is currently ranked sixth in the latest Baseball America rankings. While Gainesville features the explosiveness of Gettys, who is described as a two-way prospect by Perfect Game, Venice boasts four players who competed in the Perfect Game All-Star Game last summer in Tampa, Fla.

Although the Invitational is a single-elimination event, producing an outright champion Saturday, all teams in attendance are guaranteed four games through a consolation bracket, according to Kemp.

“We are going to be challenged this week,” Kemp said. “That’s always good when you’re challenged to get outs, get hits. So that always helps playing better opponents.”

With four games set to be played in Cary this week and back-to-back Region 8-AAAAA games against Winder-Barrow set for next Monday and Tuesday, the Red Elephants face the task of juggling the pitching rotation in an attempt to stay fresh for the remainder of the season.

While Kemp said there is an importance placed on winning the tournament this week and representing Gainesville well, there is also a focus on the upcoming region games, which decide seeding for the state playoffs.

“We’re going to play it game by game and try to piece it together as best we can,” Kemp said. “We got to be in good shape for region play. We’ll just do the best we can up here and keep our rotation strong for the region.

“Some guys who normally don’t get to throw for us are going to get the chance to throw. We’ll see what they can do.”

Regardless of how Gainesville does this week, many of the players are looking forward to the opportunity to compete against some of the nation’s best talent, and spending the week away from home with teammates.

“I think it is going to be a big team chemistry trip,” senior Sims Griffith said. “No moms and dads here; it’s just us taking care of ourselves.

“Team chemistry is huge. Whether you’re in a tough situation in a game, you have to come together. You can have a really good team and no chemistry and not have really good results. I just think it is going to be big for us.”

Along with playing tough competition on the field this week, Gainesville faces many other challenges with the trip.

The first was fundraising for what Kemp called a “very, very expensive trip.” The second major obstacle is the amount of classroom time the players will miss this week due to the trip. Luckily, Kemp said the Red Elephants were able to raise the proper funds for the trip, crediting the parents and the local community for the support.

He’s also come up with a plan to accommodate for the lack of classroom time this week.

“We’re going to play baseball and do some study hall, just try to keep up in the classroom,” Kemp said.


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