Baseball powerhouses Gainesville High and Winder-Barrow have had their fair share of battles in recent memory, with the Red Elephants coming out on the losing end more often in the past two seasons.
With two of Gainesville’s three losses to its Region 8-6A adversaries coming down to a single run last year — including a nine-inning slugfest — it seemed fitting this one would unfold in the same way Tuesday.
What started as a pitchers’ duel between Collier Scott (five innings pitched, three strikeouts) and Brady House unraveled as something else entirely. The Red Elephants overcame the windy, cold elements to erase an early deficit before ultimately falling short in eight innings, 7-5, to the sixth-ranked Bulldoggs in the region series opener at Ivey Watson Field in Gainesville.
After waiting out a brief rain delay and falling in a four-run hole — including a leadoff solo homer by House in the top of the first — Gainesville (9-5 0-1 region) clawed back behind spirited pitching from Jay Hinshaw and Banks Griffith in relief.
Without even registering a hit, the Red Elephants drew four unearned runs in the bottom of the fifth and sixth frames to make it 4-all. Griffith and Hinshaw also combined to toss two hitless frames, with Griffith fanning the first and third batters during a 1-2-3 top of the seventh to set up a potential walk-off finish.
The Red Elephants instead went down in order, and the Bulldoggs (8-6, 1-0) pounced on some defensive lapses in the decisive frame to tally their fifth-consecutive win over their region foes.
“We had our chances,” Gainesville baseball coach Jeremy Kemp said. “I thought (Banks) threw great in the top of the seventh. But we didn’t score runs. We should have taken care of business, found a way to scrape across a run, but we didn’t.
“(A) couple of things didn’t go our way in the end.”
A Gainesville wild pitch, an infield throwing error and a double steal by the Bulldoggs accounted for their final three runs. Winder-Barrow’s late fortunes even created just enough of a cushion to belittle a last-ditch charge by the Red Elephants, who tallied a run off three additional hits from near the bottom of the order in the bottom of the eighth.
Back-to-back doubles by Charlie Wall (2 for 3, two runs scored) and Cale Conley (2 for 4, one RBI) with two outs made it 7-5, while a Dalton Kyle single to follow put runners on the corners with the potential game-tying run at the plate. Relief pitcher Jackson Shook then forced an infield fly to first base to shut the door in Game 1 of the teams’ three-game series.
It didn’t take long or the Bulldoggs to build a two-run lead within the first two frames. Off only the second pitch he saw from the plate, House redirected a ball deep over the left-field fence to put his team ahead 1-0 in the top of the first.
Winder-Barrow then played a little small ball to take a two-run lead in the top of the second, first getting a leadoff double from Trace Jeffers (1 for 4, one RBI), who rounded the bags off a sacrifice bunt and a Sam Darling sacrifice fly.
House then took care of a small Gainesville threat in the bottom half of the frame, first turning a 1-6-3 double play before fanning the final batter. It came after the Red Elephants got back-to-back singles from Wall and Conley to kickstart what appeared to be the early stages of a comeback.
The Bulldoggs tacked on a pair insurance runs off a one-out Jeffers sacrifice fly and Lance Sikes RBI-single to left in the top of the fifth before Gainesville began to mount its comeback.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Red Elephants drew three unearned runs behind a pair of wild pitches and one called balk to make it a one-run game. And in the bottom of the sixth, Wall stole third before watching the catcher’s throw take an awkward bounce off the glove of an infielder, giving the baserunner the green light to scurry home for the game-tying run.
Despite Tuesday’s outcome, Kemp said the loss doesn’t sway his team’s focus going into the final two games of the series and as Gainesville moves deeper into region play.
“Nothing’s going to change as far as what we do,” Kemp added. “Anything can happen with 14 games left in region play.”
The series continues today and Friday, with first pitch of Game 2 scheduled for 5:55 p.m. today in Winder.