Extra innings can be thrilling.
The thought of the inevitable walk-off is enough to send baseball fans into ecstasy. Gainesville High did just that on Tuesday in a 7-5 victory against Habersham Central in eight innings at Ivey-Watson Field, after the first game of a three-game set was pushed back a day due to rain. Red Elephants senior catcher Ben Still launched a towering two-run shot, the longest, he says, he’s hit in some time, over the left field wall to seal the walk-off victory.
“It felt like heaven, honestly,” Still said. “I hit it and just ran for my life. I saw the left fielder throw his hands up and knew it was out.”
“Well the guys kept fighting,” Gainesville coach Adam Miller said. “We knew they had a great pitcher on the mound. (Alex) McFarlane is one of the best in the state. We knew if we kept battling, somehow stayed in the game, we had a chance and that’s what they did. They kept fighting and found a way to put some hits together in the end. I’m proud of them.”
Several components were going against them: A flame-throwing pitcher whose fastball, at times, reached 96 mph, a four-run deficit in the fourth inning and periods of rain.
But the Red Elephants (7-10, 2-2 Region 8-6A) found a way to settle down any frustration and focus solely on each at bat.
Miller saw his team’s confidence rise in the fourth inning. The Raiders’ hard-throwing pitcher struck out the first batter and a sense of calmness could be seen from the right hander. The scoreboard had Habersham Central up by four and Gainesville hitless through three innings.
Enter Cale Conley.
Gainesville’s first baseman, who struck out his first time up, singled into left field on a two-strike count.
“I got two curveballs to start off the at bat and got a fastball right where I wanted it,” said Conley, who went 2 for 4 on the night.
McFarlane lost control of his pitches, advancing Conley to second on a passed ball and walking the next batter, Harris Bell. Seth White loaded the bases with an infield single, prompting a mound visit for the Raiders. Ben Still scored two on a single to left. White advanced to third on Shawn Gregg’s deep fly ball, placing runners on the corners with two outs. Still stole second and White scored on the attempted throw out at second to cut the score, 4-3.
“Once we started getting a couple of hits off their starter, momentum sort of swung in our favor, I think,” Miller said. “I told our guys, ‘We can do this. Let’s keep fighting.’ And they did.”
Gainesville forced McFarlane out of the game in the sixth inning with two runners on base and no outs. White scored Conley, who reached base on a single and advanced to third after a single by Bell, on a single to tie the game.
The Raiders kept fighting and scored the go-ahead run in the seventh inning. Corbin Lindsay answered with a game-tying home run for the Red Elephants, forcing extra innings.
“The guys were very upbeat (after each rally),” Miller said. “Once we started getting a couple of hits off their starter, momentum sort of swung in our favor.”
Dalton Kyle pitched the seventh and eighth innings in relief of starter Dylan Nesbit for the Red Elephants. He kept the Raiders at bay to set up the Lindsay’s incoming lap around the base paths. Bell got on base and advanced to third after a throwing error by Habersham Central’s second baseman. Still calmly approached the batter’s box with a mission in mind.
“Honestly, I was just wanting to get on base, get in a run. I wasn’t trying to do too much.”
The ball sailed over the left fielder’s head and secured the overwhelming comeback victory.
“When Corbin came up, that was a huge home run and obviously the way it ended with Ben hitting the home run was huge too,” Miller said. “I’m proud of the guys. I’m proud of the coaches. We’ll go back to work and play them again tomorrow.”