For the second straight season, the Gainesville High baseball team’s postseason fate will ride on a decisive Game 3 in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs.
The No. 2 seed Red Elephants split their doubleheader against third-seeded Cambridge on Friday, April 27, at Ivey Watson Field in Gainesville. After rallying for a 4-3 win in the series opener, Gainesville (21-9) fell behind early and trailed for the duration of its 7-5, Game 2 loss.
Game 3 begins at noon today in Gainesville, though the Red Elephants will technically be the visitors due to a coin flip to determine home-field advantage.
“We’ve actually got the advantage, even with the coin toss,” Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said. “It’s still here, and this is our place. Hopefully we can jump on them, put some pressure on them and go from there.”
Last year’s Red Elephants squad lost its first-round Game 3 against Dalton, a shortcoming that has lingered all this time.
Gainesville senior pitcher Collier Scott said that loss “put a fire” under him and his teammates, and he certainly showed that in Game 1. He struck out eight during his complete-game performance that resulted in his 20th career win, 10th-most in program history.
“I didn’t even know going into today,” Scott said. “It’s pretty cool to do it and be among those other players. And doing it in the playoffs, there’s no better place to do it.”
In Game 1, Scott also helped drive in the tying and go-ahead runs with one out and the bases loaded in the sixth inning. His fielder’s choice resulted in an out at the plate, but the attempt to throw Scott out at first base went awry and rolled into foul territory, allowing seniors Banks Griffith and Cameron Wilson to score.
Griffith was 3 for 3 with a walk and two RBIs in the opener, including a run-scoring double in the third inning to create a 1-all tie. But the Bears (15-15) strung together a trio of two-out hits, which Chase Durham punctuated with a two-RBI triple, to take a 3-1 lead in the next frame.
That lasted until the Red Elephants’ three-run sixth inning. Cambridge put one on with one out in the final frame, but Gainesville senior first baseman Cale Conley helped seal the win with a 3-6-3 double play.
Scott retired eight of the last nine batters he faced, with the lone exception reaching via error.
“He’s a special kid, and he has been huge for us in the playoffs,” Kemp said of his senior ace. “He pitched great tonight, and I’m proud of him. To get into the top 10 in wins at Gainesville is special because so many great pitchers have come through here.”
The Bears, however, flipped the script in Game 2, matching their run total from the opener before recording a single out.
Leadoff hitter Ryan Todd was hit by a pitch, Teddy Egan collected the first of his three hits for the game and Cody Rech crushed a homer into the scoreboard to give the Bears a quick 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning.
Gainesville pulled within one run in the top of the third when sophomore Jackson Kemp and Conley hit back-to-back RBI singles. Cambridge’s Mitch Fleming smacked a solo home run in the bottom half, and the Red Elephants tacked on another run in the following frame on a sac fly by Scott.
But the Bears responded with another three runs on four hits. They loaded the bases in the bottom of the fourth inning before Todd drove in a run on a fielder’s choice and Egan plated another pair with a double.
Down 7-3 in the sixth, Gainesville managed to cut its deficit in half on an RBI single from Jared Smith and a sac fly by Kemp.
Cambridge pounded out 11 hits in the second game, but the Red Elephants may have a bit of an advantage in the deciding game after using only two pitchers Friday.
They’ll take any edge they can get if it means avoiding early elimination.
“I thought we competed and battled well in both games,” Kemp said. “These are two teams that are pretty evenly matched.”