After going 15-10 in 2009 during his first season as Gainesville High’s baseball coach, Jeremy Kemp was criticized for his decision to give several freshmen and sophomores a sizeable amount of playing time.
A year later, the experience those freshmen and sophomores gained in 2009 paid off and the criticism is gone. Going to third round of the state playoffs and winning a region championship will do that.
Gainesville went 28-5 overall this season, going undefeated (19-0) in Region 7-AAA before losing in the quarterfinals of the Class AAA state tournament.
By leading his team deep into the state playoffs, Kemp secured his spot as The Times 2010 Baseball Coach of the Year.
“This is a great award,” Kemp said. “There are a lot of good coaches around this area and winning it is something to be proud of.”
But, as good coaches will, Kemp is quick to give credit to his assistants and players.
“Nobody wins this award without good assistants and good players,” he said. “I had good ones this season and I’m proud of them.”
Kemp said his five assistants, Adam Miller, Clay Sanders, Trent Smallwood, Matt Shirley and Steven Cornett, put in “a lot of hours” and “worked their tails off this season.”
Hard work is something that Kemp believes turns a team from a .500 ball club into a region champion.
“We practiced hard and kept working, and the main thing was that the kids knew that there was a lot of work to be done throughout the year,” he said. “And they worked as hard as they could to get it done.”
David Gonzalez, a freshman pitcher in 2009, was one of those young players who has received significant playing time. He says the team’s work ethic is a reflection of the coach.
“He pushed us really hard,” Gonzalez said. “But we knew it was just to make us better.
“We would do that same drill over and over again, and then coach would tell us to go over it another time, but we knew at the end of the day it would be worth it,” he said. “He’s a really great coach and I’m glad he’s ours.”
Any coach whose team does so well during the regular season would be disappointed with not going all the way to the state championship and Kemp is no exception.
“There’s disappointment with the players and coaches because we had a goal in mind and we didn’t accomplish it,” Kemp said. “But when you step back and look at it, nobody thought we’d be there in the first place. Not with the young pitching and so many young players.”
The Red Elephants fielded a roster with eight players who were either freshman or sophomores and had only four seniors.
“Nobody expected us to make it that far in the playoffs but us,” he said. “And we expect to go back. It’s going to be a lot of fun here in the future as these young guys get older.”
But Kemp is quick to dismiss any talk of repeating as region champs.
“That’s a long time away,” he said. “A lot of things can happen between now and then, but that’s what we’re working for.
We’ve already started summer ball, so we are working in that direction right now. But I’m not even thinking about winning region, I’m thinking about practice and then trying to win our first game.
“Then we’ll see.”