Caleb Whitenton’s arm injury gave Starr’s Mill a brief glimmer of hope toward stealing a split with Gainesville.
Chandler Newton and the Red Elephants’ bats quickly snuffed it out.
Newton tossed 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in his first appearance on the mound in more than a month, and second-ranked Gainesville scored 10 unanswered runs to complete a sweep of Starr’s Mill with a 13-2 victory in five innings in Game 2 of the Class AAAAA state quarterfinal series on Tuesday at Ivey-Watson Field.
“It was probably about five or six weeks since (I last pitched) in a game,” Newton said. “I just got (medically) released and cleared to pitch this week, but I didn’t know how much (I could go) because coming off an injury ... it’s just different between bullpen and in a game.
“I knew I had to get the job done. It’s plain and simple, I just try to bring my football mentality on the baseball field, just bulldog hitters and attack hitters with fastballs.”
Michael Gettys pitched a complete game shutout in Gainesville’s 7-0 victory in Game 1, allowing five hits and a walk while striking out 12. Gettys also homered at the plate in both games of the doubleheader.
Region 8-AAAAA champion Gainesville (26-6) moves on to the state semifinals and will host top-ranked Houston County in a best-of-three series, beginning with a doubleheader on Monday at Ivey-Watson Field. Starr’s Mill, the No. 2 seed from Region 4-AAAAA, finishes the season 23-11.
The Red Elephants are going a round farther than they did in 2013, when they were upset by the Whitewater Wildcats at home in the quarterfinals, but no one in the Red Elephants’ dugout was in much of a mood to celebrate Tuesday’s victory.
Gainesville has only one goal in mind this season.
“Nothing less than a state championship (will satisfy us),” Gettys said. “...We don’t really care about (settling for) getting to the final four or the state championship, we want to win it.”
GAME 2, GAINESVILLE 13, STARR’S MILL 2: The Red Elephants jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in Game 2 on a three-run homer by Whitenton in the first, following a leadoff single by Sims Griffith and a walk to Michael Curry.
Things took a turn for the worse for Whitenton in the bottom of the inning, when the big right-hander surrendered a one-out, two-run home run to Adam Goodman, then began clutching his right forearm shortly afterward.
Whitenton was relieved by Newton on the mound, but he remained in the game at first base.
“Without Caleb, we’re not here where we are,” Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said. “He’s filled in with Michael Curry and Chandler Newton being out pitching-wise and done an unbelievable job for us.
“I don’t think (his injury is) anything serious, but we’ll see.”
Newton inherited a 2-1 count on Seth White and proceeded to walk him, then retired Connor Dillon and Austin Webb to end the inning.
Newton allowed a walk and one hit while striking out four in 3 2/3 scoreless innings. Both of those baserunners reached with one out in the fourth, before the senior left-hander induced a ground out and fly out to end the threat.
“We played well today; I was proud of all of them,” Kemp said. “I’m tickled to death with the way Chandler Newton threw today. ... He looked awesome. He got tired there at the end and pitched out of it tired.”
Newton had plenty of offense to work with after preventing any additional damage in the first inning.
Gainesville erupted for five runs in the top of the second capped off by Gettys’ second homer of the day — a two-run shot over the right field fence that increased the lead to 8-2.
Sims Griffith delivered an RBI single earlier in the inning and reached base six times during the doubleheader.
Newton said while he was grateful for the run support, he tried not to let it affect his focus on the mound.
“It’s always nice to pitch with a lead, but sometimes you’ve got to pitch like you’re down or tied,” Newton said.
“You don’t want to lose your mindset or mentality. I sat in the dugout and didn’t really talk to anybody, I was just sitting there with a towel over my head and focusing up on what I needed to do and got the job done.”
Gainesville added two runs in the third inning off a pair of wild pitches. In all, the Red Elephants scored seven runs off wild pitches in the doubleheader.
Drew Wright drove in another run on a ground out in the fifth, and Curry delivered Gainesville’s final runs on a two-run single.
Harrison Styles pitched a scoreless bottom of the fifth to invoke the mercy rule.
GAME 1, GAINESVILLE 7, STARR’S MILL 0: Gainesville scored five of its seven runs in Game 1 off wild pitches by Goodman, Starr’s Mill’s left-handed starting pitcher.
That was more than enough run support for Gettys, who retired nine of the first 11 batters he faced.
Gainesville got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first when Griffith led off and reached on a two-base error, before scoring on a wild pitch.
Gettys followed with a solo homer — a shot he roped over the left field fence — to double the Red Elephants’ advantage to 2-0.
“(That was) one of the farthest ones I’ve hit in a while,” Gettys said. “(The count) was 2-0, so I was just looking fastball and he threw it right inside.”
The score remained 2-0 until Gainesville tacked on two insurance runs in the fifth.
Luke Maddox reached on a bunt single and advanced to third when he tried to steal second on ball four to Gettys, leading to an errant throw.
Whitenton drove in Maddox on a single to left, and pinch runner Newton later added Gainesville’s fourth run on a wild pitch.
Whitenton finished with two of Gainesville’s seven hits. Griffith reached base three times courtesy of a single, error and hit-by-pitch.
Starr’s Mill’s only real hint of an offensive threat followed in the top of the sixth.
Goodman and Eric Sutliff delivered back-to-back singles to put two runners on with nobody out, but Gettys retired the next three batters with the help of a pair of strikeouts.
The Red Elephants then put the game away in the bottom of the sixth, after Wright was hit by a pitch to start the inning, and Griffith and Maddox followed with bunt singles to load the bases with nobody out.
“From the end of the first game on, we handled the bat like we can and it really comes down to doing whatever it takes to win, or whatever we think we can do to take advantage of somebody,” Kemp said. “We’re not really a small-ball team, but we’ll play it when we have to.”
Goodman struck out Gettys, but the pitch hit the dirt and skipped to the backstop once again.
Catcher Joe Gruszka fielded it and threw to Goodman at the plate in an attempt to tag out Wright. Instead, the runner collided with the pitcher’s hand and knocked both his glove and the ball flying into foul territory, allowing Griffith to follow him home and increase the score to 6-0.
Maddox tacked on Gainesville’s final run on another pitch in the dirt that the catcher couldn’t corral.
“We have really good chemistry this year,” Gettys said. “We may not be the most talented team that’s been here, but we’ve clicked.”