For the eighth-consecutive season, the Gainesville High baseball program will open the playoffs on the immaculate playing field of Ivey-Watson Field, surrounded by its loyal fan base.
On Wednesday, the Red Elephants (20-7, 10-4 Region 8-6A) used an eight-run first inning to beat Apalachee 12-2 and secure the three-game series. More importantly, they lock up the No. 2 spot to the postseason and first round series to open state April 28 in Gainesville.
“It feels great to know we’ll start the playoffs here at home,” said Gainesville junior Collier Scott, who had two run-scoring hits against Apalachee. “We have amazing fans.”
Strong hitting was key for the Red Elephants to lock up the runner-up spot in the region after dropping the first three region games of the season against top-ranked Winder-Barrow (26-2, 14-0).
Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp knew a home start to the playoffs was possible, even after some early adversity in region play.
“I’m really proud of these guys and how they’ve bounced back,” said Kemp. “We’re playing our best baseball all season right now.”
In the latest outing, Gainesville posted five extra base hits that all started with Banks Griffith’s lead-off home run in the bottom of the first inning. On the mound, A.J. Smallwood — one of only two seniors on the Red Elephants roster — was sharp for all five innings, after being honored with fellow senior Ross Tipton and team manager William Wiley.
Gainesville’s starter Smallwood finished the game with four strikeouts and allowed two walks.
Scott, who had a grand slam on Monday against Apalachee, connected on a run-scoring double that went to the wall in center field on Wednesday. In the fifth inning, he produced a two-out RBI single. Next up, catcher Jared Smith brought the game to an end with a two-run double for the mercy rule.
Cameron Wilson and Charlie Wall also had doubles for the Red Elephants.
“We’re all hitting the ball well, getting on base,” Scott said.
Tipton said one of the catalysts for the offensive surge was all the extra work in the cage taking swings. He said a group of about five or six players will get to school about 7 a.m. and take voluntary morning batting practice with Kemp throwing.
“We’re all hitting the ball much better,” Tipton said.
After Griffith’s lead-off homer in the first inning, Scott doubled and came in to score on a wild pitch. Griffith plated three runs on his second at bat in the inning when the right fielder for Apalachee dropped a fly ball.
For Apalachee, Hunter Linhart (3 for 3) drove in a run with a fifth-inning single.
On Friday, Gainesville faces Apalachee at 5:55 p.m. in Winder. The Red Elephants host Madison County at 1 p.m. Saturday to wrap up the regular season.