Recent Gainesville grads and high school teammates Ryan Griffith and Stephen Mason have one more chance to play together before going separate ways for college.
And they have one more chance to join together and win a championship.
The two are representing their school and their state as part of Team Georgia in the third annual Heartland Baseball Classic based in Norman, Okla. The event, formerly the Sunbelt Senior Classic, will be a showcase for the top Class of 2012 seniors from Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Ohio, Oklahoma and defending champion Texas.
Georgia, who finished as the runner-up in 2011 after winning the inaugural tournament under the new name the year prior, will open the 2012 tournament against hosts Oklahoma at noon today, the first of seven games in pool play to determine seeding for the playoff brackets.
After falling in the semifinals of the state playoffs this past season, Griffith and Mason are excited to have one more chance to go out on a high note before college.
“We have a little bitter taste in our mouths after what happened,” said Griffith, who will play in the outfield and possibly pitch. “It’ll be good to be able to represent something and go win a championship for Team Georgia.
“It’s gonna be fun.”
Mason, who will play in the infield for Team Georgia and at Georgia Perimeter College next season, agreed.
“We wanted to do it in high school,” he said, “but then again this would be a great honor to win a big tournament to represent Georgia and Gainesville well.”
And while the entire team only had one practice together before flying out to Oklahoma on Sunday, the Red Elephants teammates have been playing together for awhile.
“Me and Stephen have grown up playing together,” said Griffith, who will play at Furman next season. “We played on the same travel ball teams.
“We’re going to go our separate ways for college ball, so any chance we have to play together is good.”
The two also played together two years ago in the sophomore version of the event.
Both agreed that this event would be an altogether different experience.
“I’ve been to other tournaments playing travel ball, but this is different,” Griffith said. “It’s teams that are from their state, and they’re representing their state, and I think that’s cool.”
To catch the eye of the organizers and have the chance to represent their state, both had stellar offensive seasons in leading Gainesville to a region title and 31 consecutive wins before the semifinals upset. Griffith finished his senior season with a .402 batting average, 25 RBIs, 39 runs and 17 stolen bases. Mason hit .456 with seven home runs, 43 RBIs, 48 runs and 10 steals.
Mason said that having two players from one high school team selected says a lot about the Red Elephants program.
“That definitely shows the kind of talent that our team has,” he said. “It’s a really cool honor that we’ve got two guys going.”
Griffith added that many of the other players on the team will be recognizable, whether by having played against them in travel ball or in high school.
“We’ve played with these kids forever,” he said.
Only now they’ll all be on the same team, looking to continue Georgia’s run of strong showings in the event.
“It’ll feel good to be out there representing the state,” Mason said. “We definitely want to go out and represent well.”
And it’ll be one last chance for two of Big Red’s best to throw on the same uniform in pursuit of a title.