With a steady rain falling, tough field conditions and cool temperatures, Friday night’s first-round playoff game between the Gainesville Red Elephants and the Hiram Hornets was summed up by Gainesville Coach Jeremy Kemp as, “not fun baseball”.
The top-ranked Red Elephants survived the elements and swept the No. 4 seed Hornets Region 5-AAAAA, 7-4 and 5-1, in the first round of the state playoffs Friday night at Ivey-Watson Field.
The Red Elephants will host the Creekview/Lakeside-Dekalb winner in another best-of-three playoff series starting Wednesday.
“We knew they were a good team,” Gainesville head coach Jeremy Kemp said. “They were exactly what we expected. They got a lot to be proud of.
“They gave us all we wanted.”
In both games, the Red Elephants’ offense was dominant.
They were led by sophomore Caleb Whitenton, who went 3 for 4 in Game 1, which included an RBI single in the first inning to give the Red Elephants a 1-0 lead. He then added a two-run home run in the bottom of the third inning to then give the Red Elephants a 5-0 lead.
Senior Hunter Anglin added to the Red Elephants’ dominance, hitting a two-run home run right behind Whitenton’s RBI single in the first inning.
“It’s nice to be able to trust my teammates to hit home runs as well,” Whitenton said. “Come up big when we needed to. We were looking for a good team. Good pitching. We were preparing ourselves to face a good team with a good defense. Really wanted to get out early and hopefully end it quick.
“(The conditions) were rough. The ball got wet sometimes and was hard to hold on to, and the ground got dirty and you’d lose your footing sometimes, but you just got to work through it.”
In Game 1, the Red Elephants’ offense collected 10 hits and three stolen bases. Defensively, the Red Elephants were led by junior pitcher Michael Gettys, who recorded 10 strikeouts in six innings of play.
“Michael’s always a bulldog,” Kemp said. “It doesn’t matter when you play. You could play in the parking lot and he’s going to come out and bulldog and do his thing.”
However, Michael did get into jams in the fifth and sixth innings respectively, loading the bases with no outs. He was able to just allow one run in the fifth, but gave up three runs in the sixth.
Anglin came on in the seventh inning and closed out game one. He added to the Red Elephants’ strikeout total, striking out one.
“(Power) is nice when it happens,” Kemp said. “It’s one of those things that you can’t really always count on that.
"You’ve got to be able to do the little things and bunt people over, which we did a good job of that in the first game. We had a big bunt by Sims Griffith in the first game.”
In Game 2, Gainesville freshmen pitcher Jonathan Gettys made life easier for the Red Elephants’ offense and defense by striking out 12 batters and giving up just three hits, one being a home run.
“Jonathan’s pitched great for us,” Kemp said. “We were a little worried starting a freshmen in the playoffs.
Instead, he pitched great. I thought that’s the best he’s looked, probably all year long. I’m proud of him.
“The mound conditions got worse as the game went on, and you know, you got a freshmen worried about it, and he handled it like a champ. He did a great job.”
Whitenton again started the hitting and scoring for the Red Elephants’ offense, connecting for an RBI double in the first inning to give his team a 1-0 lead.
In the second inning, senior Luke Moore connected on for a one-run home run to build the Red Elephants’ lead at 2-0.
Then, sophomore Brandon Sewell delivered the knock-out shot, hitting a three-run home run in the fourth inning that put the Red Elephants at 5-0.
“Brandon had a very, very tough day up until that point,” Kemp said about Sewell’s performance before his home run. Sewell had struck his previous four at-bats going back to game one.
“That was a huge hit. We had talked a little bit from the first game and then the first at-bat the second game, and I told him ‘They’re coming with an outside fastball. Right now, they don’t think you can hit.’ He showed them he could. Brandon’s been huge for us all year long. He’s done a great job for us.”
Hiram’s Luke Walker hit a one-run home run in Game 2, to give the Hornets their only run of the game.
“I think we’re playing pretty well,” Whitenton said. “But I do feel we have room to improve.
“Make sure we focus through the mental mistakes and don’t let them affect our game.”