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Gainesville Braves gearing up for thrilling postseason after worst-to-first regular season
Playoffs for college summer-league baseball club opens Saturday at 7 p.m. at Ivey-Watson Field
Gainesville Braves
Gainesville Braves players celebrate a win at Ivey-Watson Field. Photo courtesy Dan Brown

Micah Owings knew the Gatorade shower was imminent by the silence coming from the dugout. 

After wrapping up the No. 1 seed to the Sunbelt League regular season, the manager of the Gainesville Braves (19-9) was spot on with his inclination. 

Owings was asked to face the fence — away from the dugout — for his postgame interview, with the club’s media relations coordinator, after a doubleheader sweep of Columbus on Wednesday at Ivey-Watson Field.

Then he noticed nobody was talking behind him, which is not characteristic for his college summer-league baseball club. 

Then, without further prompting, a couple of players gave the former big league pitcher Owings, who graduated from Gainesville High, an ice-cold liquid bath from behind. 

Owings didn’t mind taking one for the team after what his program had accomplished. 

The Braves, a team comprised of players who are a blend of local talent and some from outside the area, ran off a 10-game winning streak to lock up a first-round bye to the postseason. 

Up next, Gainesville will host the lowest-remaining seed after Friday’s first opener, in a best-of-three series, starting at 7 p.m. Saturday at Ivey-Watson Field. After starting the season 0-6, Owings’ Gainesville club needs four more wins to claim the league championship.

Owings is eager for another big crowd to pack Ivey-Watson to watch his worst-to-first club chase a title. 

He credits his coaching staff, including Cris and Sam Carpenter (father and son pitching coaches) and hitting coach Nelson Ward for Gainesville's success.

“It’s been a wild summer, but a lot of fun,” Owings said. “I attribute our success to getting to know one another. Plus, we were missing some pieces early in the season.”

Players abound have been instrumental in the club’s turnaround, too. 

On the mound, Gainesville High graduate Zach Valentine, a right-hander, has pitched well for the Braves (4-3, 29 1/3 IP, 28 hits) and Flowery Branch High graduate Zander Sechrist, a left-hander, who joined the club after going to the College World Series in his first season with the University of Tennessee, has also provided a big lift. 

At the plate and in the field, a list of local players, including Hudson Sapp, Joe Sutton and Carter Lott, among others, have played a big part in Gainesville’s success. 

Then there’s the Southern Miss connection. 

Third baseman Danny Lynch has been a spark to the ballclub, after his college team’s run to the NCAA Regional, while Carson Paetow has been equally clutch in the outfield. 

For a few games, the Gainesville Braves had the services of Reed Trimble, also from Southern Miss, but he left the club after going in the supplemental portion of the second round of the MLB draft (65th overall) to the Baltimore Orioles. 

During the turnaround, Owings said his style as a manager has evolved. 

At first, the accomplished right-handed pitcher described his style as more laid back, like that of former Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox. 

Now, he runs a more structured program from top to bottom, which includes team stretching before the game and the format of batting practice.

In the Sunbelt League, college players are having to acclimate to using wooden bats, like in the majors. 

“My goal is to send them back to their colleges better than when they got here to play in Gainesville,” Owings said. 

However, the real catalyst, Micah said, to his team’s success is his father, Jim, who takes a few minutes to talk with players before each game to both calm their nerves and give some practical advice for life. 

“My dad’s my mentor and my hero,” said Owings, whose father successfully underwent double-bypass surgery in the summer of 2020 and has made a full recovery. 

After a long and successful run playing the game of baseball, the 2021 experience coaching the Gainesville Braves has certainly heightened his interest in coaching at the college level. 

Owings said he will receive his bachelor’s degree online from the University of Alabama in 2022. 

Already, he’s been in conversations with schools where he could go to work, once he receives his college diploma. 

However, right now, the focus is on wrapping up a storybook championship with the Gainesville Braves. 

If Gainesville splits the first two games of the semifinal series, the deciding Game 3 will take place Tuesday at Ivey-Watson. 

As the regular-season No. 1 seed, the Braves would also host the championship series, if they advance, starting next Thursday. 

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