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Gainesville pitching staff leading state title hopes
Gainesville High starting pitchers from left, Stephen Mason, David Gonzalez and Ryan Griffith have the team off to an undefeated record and No. 2 ranking in Class AAA.

Ryan Griffith felt it first on signing day - the beginning of closure to a long journey. For Stephen Mason, it came in the offseason workouts.

David Gonzalez is still waiting for it to set in. He's too busy thinking about the possibilities the season may hold.

For these three Gainesville baseball seniors, the journey has spanned eight years - four as members of the Red Elephants starting lineup - and a lot of success on the diamond.

"It's been amazing," Mason said. "It's a rare experience to have the run that we've had together, so it's pretty cool."

The three players began playing together at 10 years old in a travel league. It was the first team Gonzalez was a part of after he moved in from Orlando, Fla.

It wasn't until high school when they were placed into Gainesville's starting lineup as freshmen, however, that each became serious about their future in the sport.

Since then, they have amassed a combined 39 wins and more than 250 strikeouts on the mound, as well as more than 300 hits and 200 RBIs at the plate.

"When you talk about our team, they're three of the pitchers and three of the leading hitters," Red Elephants coach Jeremy Kemp said. "And their leadership is irreplaceable."

One of the things that make the three so valuable to the team, Kemp said, is that they each offer something different.

Mason, who has signed to play at Georgia Perimeter College, is Mr. Reliable.

In four years, he has never missed a start, even though a shoulder injury has kept him off the mound thus far this season.

He has been particularly successful at the plate, driving the ball well the other way on his way to 117 career hits.

"What it takes most guys to do in four years, he's done in three," Kemp said. "He's just an unbelievable hitter."
Griffith, who is headed to Furman, is Mr. Versatility.

Kemp described him as a consistent hitter who will come through in the biggest of situations. And it helps that he can play any position on the field, as he did as a sophomore.

"He's just that type of kid," Kemp said. "That's the type of guy you want up to bat with the game on the line. You wouldn't be able to tell if we were practicing or playing in the state championship by his mannerisms.

"Nothing fazes him."

And Gonzalez is Mr. Blue Chip.

A big-time pitcher, Gonzalez has signed to play baseball at the University of Georgia. His fastball touches the low-to-mid 90s as a pitcher and he adds solid power at the plate as well.

"He's got an absolute cannon for an arm," Kemp said. "And he's one of our leaders. He's a heart-and-soul guy. He wants the ball in the big games, and he's done well for us in those situations."

That's what they've given the program for the past three-plus seasons. What they can offer now, as seniors, is the leadership that comes with being a four-year starter.

"Going in as freshmen, you don't really know what it's like to play varsity baseball," Mason said. "Now, as seniors, we know what it takes. There's that experience factor. We can help others, especially the younger guys, because we know what it's like to come in at a young age."

Griffith said that while they've always played a part in the direction and leadership of the team, he feels like they have taken the next step as the seniors.

"I feel like it's really our turn to take the reins," he said. "We did mandatory workouts in the offseason; we've been more vocal in guiding the younger guys. We were there at one point, so we know what it takes."

And the team has responded.

The Red Elephants are off to a great start in a season that could be their finest, even if they won't all say the one goal that's on their mind.

The team has a perfect 7-0 record and is ranked No. 2 in the state.

"But Coach says we're ranked 32nd," Gonzalez said.
"That's how many games we have to win."

The thought of the end of their high school careers has crossed their minds. Whether they win a state championship or not, this season will be the end to a long journey the three players have taken together.

"It's been a lot of fun," Griffith said. "We've all been great friends since we started playing together. And it's been awesome seeing each other develop.

"It really kind of hit me on signing day, seeing the others sign, that we made it together. It's pretty special."

An even more fitting end would be to finally pick up the hardware in their final season before going their separate ways in college.

"Winning state is definitely a goal," Mason said. "But we're just taking it one game at a time. Winning the region is a huge goal for us, too, because it sets us up with great placement in the playoffs."

Gonzalez said that he tries to hide the excitement at the prospect of playing for a state title in his senior year, but he can't keep it out of his mind completely.

"Winning state would be a great ending to the story," he said. "We want to jump in the lake (a tradition for Gainesville state champions). I don't know if I'll be able to find the words if it happens.

"I get chills whenever I talk about it - I'm getting chills right now."


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