Region 7-AAA title game
Creekview vs. Gainesville
When: 7 tonight
Where: Ivey-Watson Field
In what he termed as “the biggest game of the year”, Gainesville High baseball coach Jeremy Kemp didn’t think twice about giving the ball to Hunter Anglin to start tonight’s game against Creekview that will decide the Region 7-AAA champion.
His decision was simple. Anglin is 8-0, boasts a 1.46 ERA and has shut down some of the best teams in the region thus far, so who cares if he’s a 14-year-old freshman.
“He’s not a freshman anymore,” Kemp said. “After eight starts, he’s graduated to a sophomore.”
Regardless of his grade level, Anglin will still be asked to help lead the No. 2 Red Elephants (22-1, 17-0 Region 7-AAA) to their first region championship since 2007; a task he’s more than ready for.
“I’m not nervous, I’ve been in situations like this before,” said Anglin, who's also hitting .400 with six home runs. “I’m just going to pitch the game the way it’s supposed to be pitched.”
Handling those pitches will be senior Sloan Strickland, who admitted that most teams wouldn’t send out a freshman in a game of this magnitude.
But Anglin isn’t your ordinary freshman.
“He’s got a great mentality,” said the four-year starter who's hitting .400 and has thrown out 16 of 22 attempted base stealers. “I’m confident in his ability because I believe in his stuff.”
Anglin has a tall task in front of him in the Grizzlies (18-6, 14-3), who were dubbed the “Gorilla Lineup” by their coach Mike Nayman.
“We have 12 guys that are 6-feet or taller who can really hit the ball hard,” Nayman said. “We have a ton of home runs and our park is the biggest in the region.”
Height won’t faze Gainesville, which has won 21 straight games.
“They’re a lot bigger, but I think we can hit with them,” said Kemp.
“They hit it around as well as any team out there,” he said of a team led in home runs and RBIs by Will Maddox, who has nine homers and 44 runs batted in.
But what makes Gainesville so dangerous is its base stealing ability. Led by K.J. McAllister’s 31 steals, the Red Elephants have surpassed 90 stolen bases this year, which shattered the old school record. McAllister also leads Gainesville with a .512 batting average and .638 on base percentage.
“The best way to prevent that is to keep them off the bases,” said Nayman, who didn’t know who would be his starting pitcher for the game. “I know they can run and it’s impressive.”
Equally as impressive are the senior-laden Grizzlies, whose heart of the order boasts nearly 900 plate appearances in their high school careers.
“They’ve been in the middle of everything when we play well,” Nayman said of Dillon Mulkey, Christian Van Camp and Jakob Nixon. “I expect them to go out and produce, and I have confidence that they will.”
The trio of Mulkey, Van Camp and Nixon epitomize the main difference between Creekview and Gainesville. The Grizzlies are an experienced team that returned seven players who started in the playoffs last year, while Gainesville starts six players who are juniors or younger.
Although it’s not his preference, Nayman applauds Gainesville’s ability to succeed with young players.
“If playing 14- or 15 -year-olds were so easy, everyone would do it,” he said.
Kemp admitted that winning with a young roster wasn’t easy, but it didn’t prevent the coaches and players from believing they could win a region title this year.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to get to this situation,” Kemp said. “I don’t think anybody expected us to be where we are.
“But we got a year under our belts, we matured, we play hard and we find a way to win.”
While the Red Elephants were experiencing a learning curve last season, the Grizzlies ran away with the region title.
“We entered this season with a goal to be right here, and that’s going to be our goal every year” Nayman said.
Winning a region title is important to both coaches, but neither wants to put too much emphasis on a game featuring two teams that have already clinched a playoff berth.
“The magnitude is great because you always want to play with something on the line,” Nayman said. “But the bigger picture is next week.”
That’s when the Class AAA state playoffs begin, but according to Kemp, tonight’s game will appear like the postseason has already started.
“It’ll be a playoff-type atmosphere,” he said. “It’ll be good for both teams, even the losing one.”