Sims Griffith wasn’t afraid to take one for the team any way he needed to, even if it was a curveball to the top of his batting helmet.
For Griffith and Gainesville, it was a matter of survival.
The senior forced in the tying run during Game 2 of top-ranked Gainesville’s Class AAAAA state semifinal series against second-ranked Houston County on Monday when he was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the fifth inning. The play helped Gainesville rally for eight unanswered runs over the final three innings and defeat Houston County 13-7 at Ivey-Watson Field to force Game 3 today at 5 p.m.
Griffith also held Houston County to two runs over 5 2/3 innings of relief on the mound in Game 2 after Gainesville fell behind 5-3 in the second inning following a 6-2 loss in Game 1.
“I can sum Sims Griffith up in (that) one at-bat,” Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said. “He’s willing to do whatever (it takes).
“He ties the ball game up on getting hit in the head. He’s unbelievable, he’s fun to watch and he’s fun to coach.”
GAME 2: GAINESVILLE 13, HOUSTON COUNTY 7: Griffith held the Houston County (26-6) bats in check down the stretch in Game 2 to earn the win, and the Red Elephants (27-7) roughed up three Bears pitchers to rally after trailing 7-5 entering the fifth inning.
Playing as the visiting team in Game 2, Gainesville cut the lead to 7-6 on a single by Mikey Gonzalez — his second of the game — in the top of the fifth. Gonzalez entered the game at shortstop in the second inning after Griffith moved to the mound to relieve starting pitcher Michael Curry.
“That was amazing,” Griffith said of Gonzalez’s Game 2 performance. “I love that kid.
“He has not played that much this year and he’s been wanting to get at-bats and play in the field, and I’m just so happy for him. He’s one of my good friends.”
Griffith came to the plate later in the inning with the bases loaded and two outs. He held his ground in the batter’s box and was hit by breaking pitch from Conner Smith, the Bears’ third pitcher of the night, to force in the tying run.
“We had to win, that was the bottom line,” Griffith said. “We had to do whatever it takes. We had guys taking balls up at bat, guys doing whatever they had to do to get people to score and win that ball game, and that’s what I love to see.”
Gainesville then reclaimed the lead, 8-7, when Gonzalez scored from third on a wild pitch.
The lead almost slipped away in the bottom of the inning when Houston County’s Josh Profit lofted a fly ball to deep center field with teammate Mark Lumsden on third and only one out.
Instead, center fielder Michael Gettys caught the ball and delivered an impressive throw straight to catcher Josh Satterfield, who absorbed a collision with Lumsden and made the tag for the out.
That left Gainesville with all the momentum, and the Red Elephants took advantage of it.
Brandon Sewell launched a two-out, two-run homer over the left field fence in the sixth, and Gainesville tacked on three more runs in the seventh. Curry came up with an RBI single that led to an error and a second run, and Caleb Whitenton capped off Gainesville’s night at the plate with an RBI double.
“I told them (after Game 1), ‘You’ve been punched in the mouth and we’ll see how you respond,’ and they responded,” Kemp said.
Curry, who was relatively quiet postseason at the plate through the first three rounds of the playoffs, went 4 for 6 in the doubleheader with a pair of home runs and four RBIs.
He singled in the first inning off Bears right-hander Hunter Phillips — the first starting righty Gainesville has faced in the postseason — leading to one of two runs that came in when Sewell delivered a single that resulted in an error.
Earlier in the inning, Griffith led off with a single and scored Gainesville's first run on a wild pitch.
But Curry struggled on the mound in his first pitching appearance of the playoffs and couldn’t hold the 3-0 lead.
Houston County got a run back off the junior right-hander in the bottom of the first, then chased him in the bottom of the second following a pair of two-run homers by Lumsden and Profit.
The Bears hit five home runs during the doubleheader.
Curry cut Gainesville’s deficit to 5-4 in the third on a solo homer, and Gonzalez came home to tie the game 5-5 in the fourth on an RBI groundout by Luke Maddox.
Hunt Smith reclaimed the lead for the Bears, 7-5, with his second homer of the day in the fourth, a two-run shot off Griffith.
The Bears had plenty of other opportunities to score in Game 2 but stranded 11 baserunners. Gainesville stranded 8.
Gainesville finished with 12 hits to Houston County’s 11 and committed one fewer error (3) than the Bears (4) in what was a sloppy defensive outing for both teams.
GAME 1: HOUSTON COUNTY 6, GAINESVILLE 2: The Red Elephants suffered their first loss of the playoffs in Game 1, bringing their 15-game winning streak to an end.
Gettys was practically unhittable for most of the series opener, allowing only one hit while striking out 11 through the first four innings.
He had a 2-0 lead from the bottom of the first until the sixth courtesy of Curry’s first home run of the day. Curry followed a leadoff bunt single by Griffith with a blast over the fence in left-center field.
Gettys began to run out of steam in the top of the sixth when he allowed a leadoff single to Profit, and Blake Jackson followed with a two-run homer to center to tie the game 2-2.
Gainesville had a chance to reclaim the lead in the bottom of the inning and put all the pressure on Houston County courtesy of a leadoff double by Maddox off the right field wall. Maddox advanced to third on a groundout by Gettys but was stranded there after Curry popped out and Whitenton struck out.
Gettys then lost his control in the seventh and walked three straight batters with one out. That set the table for Jackson to drive in another run on a single up the middle.
Maddox briefly limited the damage on the play by fielding the ball in center field and throwing out Jones at the plate to keep the Bears’ lead at 3-2, but Smith followed with a towering three-run bomb beyond the center field wall.
Gettys’ strikeouts helped keep the Bears off the scoreboard early, but also ran up his pitch count. He threw 122 pitches over 6 2/3 innings, allowing eight hits and three walks while striking out 13.
“He was tired, and you know, I went with him and I probably went with him too long, but it’s Michael Gettys,” Kemp said. “He wants the ball in his hand, and if I had it to do over again I’d do the same thing.
“He’s been unreal for us. He’s up around 30 wins in his career, and he would tell me, ‘Coach I can’t go anymore’ if he felt that way, and he didn’t feel that way.”
Houston County had eight hits and did not commit an error. Gainesville was held to only three baserunners after the first inning and finished with four hits and two errors.
Jordan McIlwain, the seventh consecutive left-handed starter that Gainesville had seen in the postseason, allowed four hits, a walk and struck out five over seven innings to earn the win on the mound.