Complete confidence in a sophomore pitcher led Gainesville High to win a pivotal Game 2 Monday night after falling in the first, 9-4, to Houston County in the Class AAAAA state semifinals at Ivey-Watson Field.
The 2-1 victory in the second game of the opening doubleheader forced a deciding Game 3, which will be played at 6 p.m. tonight, in Gainesville. The Red Elephants will be the home team in the contest.
With elimination an imminent possibility, Gainesville (29-6) coach Jeremy Kemp put the ball in the hands of sophomore Collier Scott to start Game 2. The youngster delivered with a better performance than Kemp could have asked of him.
“Collier hasn’t thrown like that since Winder here (April 4),” Kemp said. “He looked great. He kept them off balance.
“We talked to him and said, ‘We want you to get us through four innings and we’ll turn it over to somebody. Just give us a quality start.’”
Scott had other plans.
The sophomore was at 48 pitches through 5 innings after throwing single-digit pitch totals in the second through fifth innings.
On the night, he finished with 84 pitches in a complete-game effort for the victory.
“My curveball was on it today,” Scott said. “It hasn’t been the last two times I’ve pitched. It really helped me out. I could locate my fastball too.”
Scott allowed one run and gave up two walks and hit one Bears batter with a pitch.
The lone run came in the bottom of the first when University of Georgia football commit Jake Fromm doubled and Tanner Hall followed up with an RBI single.
The Houston County (27-8) run answered a single run in the top of the first for the Red Elephants.
Shortstop Fedrick Cardona doubled before Sam Carpenter repeated the hit for an RBI.
Scott got into a little bit of trouble in the bottom of the seventh inning as the Bears tried to mount their comeback, like they’d been able to do throughout the playoffs to remain alive in the hunt.
The first two batters went down with a groundout and strike out. Then, things went a little sideways.
The third batter in the inning, pinch hitter Ryan Milton, was down to an 0-2 count before being hit. That at-bat was followed up by singles from Austin Langford and Blake Dawson to load the bases.
Kemp took a trip to the mound, with all indications being he was to pull Scott from the game. But, the veteran coach stuck with his man.
“He had full faith in me the whole time,” Scott said. “I had trust that I would finish it out and we would come to a Game 3.”
Kemp echoed that, saying he never was going to take Scott out.
“I wasn’t going to take him out,” Kemp said. “As good as he looked, I went out there and told him it was his game to lose. We were setting up the defense when I went out there to talk to them.”
Scott needed just two pitches to induce a groundball to Banks Griffith at second base, who just tagged the bag for the unassisted out and the win.
The ultimate winning run for Gainesville came in the fourth inning.
Farris Mance led off the frame with a single and was moved to second with a sacrifice bunt from A.J. Smallwood.
With second baseman Banks Griffith at the plate, Mance took off toward third. Houston County catcher Lawson Trawick came up throwing and deflected his throw off Griffith’s helmet, which pushed Mance across the plate for the go-ahead run.
“The likelihood of us stealing third base with Farris Mance and getting the wild throw...it’s just meant to be,” Kemp said. “This team just finds a way. I’m proud of them.”
Carpenter ended the contest with the lone RBI for Gainesville and a 1 for 3 line with the double.
Cardona was 2 for 2 with the run scored.
Mance was 1 for 3 with a run scored.
Houston County pitcher DL Hall, a Florida State University commit, picked up the loss for the Bears, throwing six innings.
Hall finished with eight strikeouts and only four hits allowed.
HOUSTON COUNTY 9, GAINESVILLE 4 (GAME 1): The Bears took advantage of two errors, a walk, hit batsman and four hits to plate five runs in the second inning to pull ahead and ultimately take the first contest.
Carpenter got the start on the mound for the Red Elephants, giving up nine runs on nine hits, two walks and a hit batsman.
Starter Tony Locey picked up the victory for Houston County. He pitched six full innings, giving up four hits and two runs.
The Bears used three pitchers to get through the final inning after three straight walks loaded the bases. Then, two hit batters and a walk scored two runs. The last pitcher for the Bears tossed just two pitches to record the final out.
Griffith led the Red Elephants in the game, going 2 for 3 with a pair of runs scored.
Scott was 1 for 3 with two RBIs.
Jack Langford and Cardona scored the other two runs for Gainesville.
Dawson was 2 for 5 with three runs scored and Austin Langford was 2 for 4 with two runs scored for Houston County in the contest.