EVANS — Gainesville’s players put themselves in a position that virtually every high school baseball team dreams of.
Heading into the final two innings in Game 3 of the state championship series, the fifth-ranked Red Elephants needed to score only one more run than their opponent to win the Class AAAAA crown.
Those final two innings just didn’t break Gainesville’s way.
Top-ranked Greenbrier snapped a tie game with an RBI double in the top of the sixth and added three insurance runs in the seventh to defeat fifth-ranked Gainesville 5-2 and secure the state title on Wednesday at Greenbrier High School.
Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said his players defied expectations this season, and their legacy won’t be defined by one loss.
“I don’t think anybody picked us to be playing for the state championship,” Kemp said. “These guys played their butts off and I couldn’t be more proud of them and the way they played throughout the year.
“You can’t be defined by one game, and that’s what I told them. You’re not defined as being a winner just by a state championship. This group is, they’re a bunch of winners.”
Greenbrier (30-4) clinched its sixth state championship in program history and first since 2007.
Gainesville (29-8) was denied what would have been its eighth state title in program history and first since 2002. The Red Elephants had previously been a perfect 7 for 7 in state championship series.
Decisive Game 3, which was originally scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, was postponed until noon Wednesday due to storms.
Gainesville defeated Greenbrier 6-2 in Game 1 on Monday behind a complete game from ace Jonathan Gettys, and with the help of six errors by the Wolfpack. Greenbrier bounced back and dealt the Red Elephants a 7-3 loss in Game 2 later in the night behind left-hander Adam Sasser, a Georgia signee, to force a winner-take-all Game 3.
“This is by far not one of the most talented teams that’s been at Greenbrier, but these kids played together and they really had each other’s backs,” Greenbrier coach Jason Osborn said. “We knew after that Game 1 (loss) that we had a guy out there to give us a shot. We told them, ‘If ya’ll get this to a Game 3, we’ll figure this out,’ and they did it, bought into it and kind of stuck with our plan this whole series. I’m just tickled to death for these kids.”
The Red Elephants, which played as the home team, tried to mount a rally in the bottom of the seventh while trailing 5-1.
A hit batsman and a pair of walks by Sasser, who relieved starter Ty Snipes in the fifth inning, loaded the bases and brought the tying run to the plate for Gainesville with one out.
Sasser got Drew Wright to pop it up in foul territory for the second out, before Fedrick Cardona followed with a single through the right side of the infield to cut the deficit to 5-2.
Mikey Gonzalez then grounded a ball to the left side of the infield, but Greenbrier third baseman Garrett Marchmen fielded it and stepped on third base for the final out.
“It wouldn’t have surprised me if (our guys) would have won that game right there in the last inning,” Kemp said. “That would’ve ended about a perfect season for this group, because that’s what they’ve done all year is come back.
“But Greenbrier is a great team, they did a great job.”
Things went Gainesville’s way early on, as senior outfielder Brandon Sewell gave the Red Elephants the lead in the bottom of the second with a solo home run to left off Snipes.
Senior catcher Michael Curry (4 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 1 R, 2 K), a Georgia signee, got the start on the mound for Gainesville and made the lead hold up until the fourth inning.
“He’s a ball player,” Kemp said of Curry. “He can play anywhere on the field and get it done. He’s all heart.”
Curry walked the first two batters to lead off the top of the fourth, before an infield error erased an opportunity for a double play and kept the inning alive.
Davis Murray took advantage with a sacrifice fly that allowed Sasser to score from third and even the score 1-1.
Gainesville threatened in the bottom of the fifth, thanks to a walk to Sewell and a bunt single by Banks Griffith. Snipes then struck out Wright, who was trying to bunt, then gave way to Sasser on the mound.
Sasser got Cardona to ground into a double play to end the inning.
Greenbrier pulled ahead 2-1 in the top of the sixth with the help of an error that allowed Snipes to reach base at the start of the inning. Two batters later, Nick Sandlin drilled a run-scoring double to deep center field off Gettys, who relieved Curry in the fifth.
The Wolfpack tacked on three more runs in the top of the seventh, courtesy of an RBI single by Snipes and a wild pitch that also resulted in a throwing error, allowing a pair of baserunners to score and boost the lead to 5-1.
Despite the disappointing ending to the season, Kemp praised his seniors for the contributions they’ve made to the program. The 2015 senior class has been part of a Gainesville squad that reached the state quarterfinals once and the state semifinals twice in their three years prior to this run to the title series.
“It’s just been an unbelievable ride with these guys,” Kemp said. “The seniors have played at least a whole season more of games than most kids get to play, because they’ve played so many games in the playoffs.
“We’ve played well since 2010. We’ve had a good little stretch, we just haven’t quite put it all together. We’re getting better every year as a program and hopefully that will continue and we’ll surprise some people next year.”