Gainesville High baseball is moving on to the Class AAAAA semifinals thanks to a 12-8 win over Dalton in a deciding Game 3 at Ivey-Watson Field on Wednesday.
The victory moves the top-ranked Red Elephants (28-5) through to the fourth round, where they’ll host Houston County in a doubleheader on Monday beginning at 4 p.m. If necessary, Game 3 will be Tuesday, also at Ivey-Watson. The trip to the semifinals will be the fourth in five seasons for Gainesville.
The celebration following the four-run win: subdued. The celebration following the coin flip, called by senior Sam Carpenter, to give the Red Elephants home-field advantage against the Bears: raucous.
First, there was a coin toss to see who would call the flip for home-field advantage. With that landing on heads, it meant Gainesville would call.
Red Elephants coach Jeremy Kemp looked at Carpenter, his senior pitcher and first baseman, tapped him in the stomach and left it to his senior.
“I just kind of went with my gut,” Carpenter said with a smile. “The deciding flip that decided who got to call it was heads and Kemp tapped me and said, ‘What you want?’ I just thought about it for a second and said, ‘Alright, let’s go double heads.’”
After the coin fell into the grass, Kemp, Carpenter, the official who flipped it and the Houston County coach all leaned in to see the result.
A clapping Kemp, sprinting Carpenter and loud Red Elephants squad let everybody know who won the toss.
“It’s huge,” Kemp said of playing the semifinal series at home. “Dalton, they drove home two hours last night and had to drive two hours back today. It’s tough on Houston County, but they have a great team, so we’re going to have a tough time.”
In Wednesday’s game, Gainesville out-hit Dalton 15-11. In all but two innings where it didn’t score, Gainesville scored two or more runs per frame.
The Red Elephants jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning, playing as the visitor after losing a coin toss on Tuesday.
“The first inning was key because we jumped on them first,” sophomore second baseman Banks Griffith said. “We scored a couple of runs and set the mindset for the game that we needed to keep scoring to win.”
The Catamounts responded with two runs of their own in the bottom of the frame.
Gainesville went on to put up a pair in the second, three in the third and three in the fourth. Dalton added one in the second and one in the third. The biggest inning for the Catamounts came in the fifth, where they scored three to cut the lead to 10-7.
In the top of the sixth, Gainesville’s A.J. Smallwood was hit on the arm. Marshall Scott came in to run for him.
Two batters later, Jack Langford delivered an RBI double to score Scott. Langford was able to reach third on the throw to the plate.
The next batter, Griffith, drove in Langford with a first-pitch single up the middle.
Griffith and Langford led the Red Elephants, each picking up 3 hits — a double and two singles — an RBI and two runs scored.
Catcher Jared Smith, shortstop Fedrick Cardona and Carpenter all ended the game with a pair of hits for the Red Elephants. Cardona and Smith each had two RBIs. Smith scored two runs as well. Carpenter scored one.
Collier Scott, Farris Mance and Smallwood rounded out the 15-hit day for the Red Elephants, with Mance and Smallwood both driving in a run.
Smallwood started the game off on the mound for Gainesville, pitching two-plus innings of work. After giving up two hits to lead off the third inning, Langford replaced the starter.
Langford finished the game, throwing five innings and giving up four runs on four hits with a pair of hit batsmen, walks and strikeouts.
Wednesday’s game was the first time Gainesville has faced elimination in the 2016 playoffs, after its loss in Game 2 of the series snapped a 12-game winning streak. Now, the Red Elephants are one win away from making it back to the finals where they were topped last season by Greenbrier in three games. Halfway through this season, some may have counted Gainesville out. But that’s exactly what they wanted.
“We love people that doubt us,” Carpenter said. “We knew when (Jonathan) Gettys was gone, we knew everyone had to step up on this team and everyone has. It’s been...I can’t even describe it.”
Griffith said the Red Elephants’ fight down the stretch and through the playoffs shows a lot about he and his teammates.
“We have heart,” the sophomore said. “Losing Gettys was big and people were telling us we couldn’t make it without him. Our heart has proved that wrong. We have to keep that going.”
SCARY MOMENTS: The home plate umpire was sent to the ground after taking a foul ball to the face mask in the bottom of the fifth inning. After taking some time, getting some water and catching his breath, the umpire remained behind the plate.
Then, in the top of the sixth, another foul ball caught his face mask. The umpired stumbled before falling face first to the ground. Eventually, he was taken by medical personnel to the hospital for evaluation. The final two innings were played with three umpires.
ODD FINISH: In the bottom of the seventh inning, Dalton had the bases loaded with two outs. A walk to Cole Shelton, who finished the day 2 for 4 with two RBIs and a run scored, was walked to plate a run.
The final out came as Brock Nelson was struck out. The third strike was dropped, sending the runners trying to advance, but Smith recovered the missed ball and simply stepped on home plate to finalize the win.
UP NEXT: The Bears (26-7) will roll into Ivey-Watson Field on Monday as the No. 1 seed from Region 2.
Houston County swept Statesboro in the first round and slipped by Cambridge in the second round by winning a 2-0 Game 3. On Tuesday, the Bears swept Columbus in a doubleheader to advance to the semifinals.
Prior to the playoffs, the Bears won 12 of its last 13 regular-season games.