The Region 8-AAA championship series is the second step in setting up a deep baseball playoff run for Gainesville and North Hall.
Both already satisfied the first step by winning their respective subregions, Gainesville in the South and North Hall in the North. Now, the second-ranked Red Elephants (23-0) and Trojans (16-7) will play a doubleheader starting at 4 p.m. today at Ivey-Watson Field to see which program takes the region’s top spot into the playoffs.
If there is a split today, a third game will be played at noon Saturday to decide the best-of-three series.
“This is exactly where we wanted to be at this point in the season, and I’m very proud of the team for getting into the region championship,” Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said. “However, we know we’re about to play a very talented North Hall team.”
Kemp and Trojans coach Trent Mongero agree that the region champion will be at a huge advantage in the postseason, considering first-round playoff matchups are against Region 7-AAA, where Ringgold (21-1), Cartersville (18-5), and Heritage-Catoosa (17-5) are all ranked in the Class AAA coaches poll.
The Region 8-AAA champion would also be at home for at least the first two rounds.
“Winning the region title is a big deal,” Mongero said. “We match up with maybe the most difficult region-to-region in the state with teams like Cartersville on the other side.”
As subregion champions, both are assured playing at home in the first round of the playoffs. However, the loser of the region title series and No. 2 seed would likely have to go on the road, should it advance, starting in the second round.
For the region championship series, pitching is a key with at least two games, and the possibility of three, in a 24-hour span.
Gainesville’s pitching staff sets up at the top with senior University of Georgia signee David Gonzalez (7-0, 0.95 ERA, 54 Ks), Stephen Mason (0.75 ERA), Michael Gettys (7-0, 2.04 ERA) and Hunter Anglin (5-0, 36 Ks) at the top. Ryan Griffith and Shad Petree are also possibilities for Kemp, should they be needed.
That strong pitching rotation has played a major role in helping the team to its first undefeated regular season in school history.
Kemp said Gonzalez will likely pitch the first game, but didn’t have that set in stone as of Wednesday.
Meanwhile, North Hall will likely throw Preston Graham in Game 1, with Wade Phillips, Colton Duttweiler and Avery Smith available after that.
North Hall’s leading hitters heading into the region championship are Andrew Smith (.434 avg., 14 RBIs), Zach Mize (.406 avg., 17 RBIs) and Jesse Strickland (.420 avg., 19 RBIs).
For Gainesville, the offense is led by Gettys (6 HRs, 31 RBIs), Mason (.458, 5 HRs, 23 RBIs), and Griffith and Anglin (both at .431).
Gainesville earned home field for the region championship as a result of a 9-3 head-to-head win against the Trojans on April 13 at Ivey-Watson.