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Gainesville glad to be in Round 2
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Second-round games

Class AAA

Dunwoody (20-7, No. 2 Region 5-AAA) vs. Gainesville (26-2, No. 1 Region 7-AAA), 4 p.m.

Class AA

Blessed Trinity (20-8, No. 2 Region 6-AA) vs. Jefferson (24-3, No. 1 Region 8-AA), 5 p.m.

Buford (20-7, No. 3 Region 6-AA) vs. Pike County (22-5, No. 1 Region 5-AA), 5 p.m.

Tickets cost $7

Playing on great teams and losing in the first round of the playoffs are two things that Sloan Strickland is all too familiar with.

As a freshman in 2007, Strickland and the rest of his Gainesville teammates boasted a 21-5 record during the regular season, earned a No. 1 seed for the playoffs and were ousted in two games by Sandy Creek.

A year later as a sophomore, the Red Elephants again went 21-5 in the regular season which was good enough for a No. 2 seed. And again, Gainesville lost in the first round, this time to Westminster.

So when Lakeview Fort-Oglethorpe defeated second-ranked Gainesville (26-2) in Game 1 of the first round, it would have been understandable if Strickland had a here-we-go-again feeling.

But that wasn’t the case.

“We lost in the first round my freshman and sophomore years and I didn’t want that to happen my senior year,” Strickland said. “I remember how it felt and winning that series was a big monkey off my back.”

It was the same for the entire Gainesville program, which is making its first second-round appearance since 2004.

“This team is better than the ones I played on in the past,” said Strickland, who hit three home runs in the first round. “I knew we’d come back.”

That comeback effort set up a showdown with Dunwoody that starts at 4 p.m. today at Ivey-Watson Field. Two other area teams are competing in the second round of the Class AA playoffs, with Jefferson (24-3) playing host to Blessed Trinity (20-8) and Buford (20-7) visiting Pike County (22-5). Both of those doubleheaders begin at 5 p.m.

All three teams are excited to still be playing baseball, but at Gainesville, that excitement has a sense of relief to it.

“There’s a real positive attitude around here knowing that we got out of the first round,” said second baseman Will Maddox, who hit .600 against Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe. “We’re going to come out focused to play instead of having to lose to gain focus.”

That’s exactly what happened in the first round when Gainesville saw its 23-game winning streak snapped with a 9-7 defeat in Game 1.

“We didn’t come out ready to play,” Maddox said. “But we came together as a team and realized our season could be over in two hours if we didn’t focus.”

Focus they did, and the Red Elephants outscored the Warriors 28-10 in the final two games of the series.

“Lakeview was not a normal four seed,” Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said. “It was a good learning experience for us to have to fight back.”

Strickland agrees.

“It was a wake-up call,” he said of the loss. “It showed that we can be beat.”

Now it’s time to prevent another loss — especially a series loss — from happening, and Kemp is confident that his team won’t enter the series with Dunwoody like it did against Lakeview.

“It took us a little while to get comfortable,” Kemp said. “(Today) will be a different day. We’ll be relaxed and ready.”

But ready for what? The only things Kemp and his team know about Dunwoody are its record and that it has solid pitching.

Aside from those things, the Wildcats are a mystery.

“I really don’t know a whole lot about them,” Kemp said. “I know they’re a good team and the only person I talked to said the pitching was great.”

That won’t impact the Red Elephants.

“Not knowing your opponent doesn’t make you think,” Maddox said. “You just go up there and react.

“Whoever we see, we’ll be fine.”

Dunwoody will start either Hunter Wheeler or Wes Bancroft in Game 1 while Kemp once again gives the ball to freshman Hunter Anglin, who was roughed up for the first time this season against the Warriors.

“Hunter’s always come through for us and that’s the one time he didn’t,” Kemp said. “The other pitchers picked him up and it was good to see them respond.”

One of those “other pitchers” — Stephen Mason or David Gonzalez — will start Game 2, but who gets the ball is determinate on the outcome of Game 1.

“We’re going to do everything to win the first one and we’ll take it from there,” Kemp said.

The Red Elephants failed to do that in the first round, but that didn’t derail their thoughts of winning a state championship.

“Losing that first game put a little fire in everybody,” Strickland said. “The guys understand that we can make a run at this thing.”

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