Class AAA quarterfinals
Who: Gainesville Red Elephants vs. Thomson Bulldogs
When: 4:30 today
Where: Thomson High School, Thomson
Records: No. 1 seed Gainesville 28-3; No. 1 seed Thomson 24-4
Radio: 1240-AM, 1330-AM
Twice in the past 10 days, the Gainesville High baseball team has been pushed to the brink of elimination in the Class AAA state playoffs and twice the Red Elephants have risen to the occasion.
After staving off Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe with a 12-run performance on May 8 in the final game of their opening-round series, the Red Elephants faced elimination once more against Dunwoody on May 13. In that game, Gainesville scored runs in every inning but two, and routed Dunwoody 13-2.
With the win, the Red Elephants (28-3) advanced to the quarterfinals where they will face Thomson (24-4), the champion of Region 3-AAA. The quarterfinal doubleheader is set to begin at 4 p.m. today at Thomson, with the second game to begin 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first. If necessary, Game 3 will be played 5 p.m. Wednesday at Thomson.
After breezing through the regular season with 24 wins and only one loss, the Red Elephants have had to overcome some obstacles in the postseason. While Gainesville is still scoring nearly 10 runs per game, its runs allowed per contest has risen from 3.1 during the regular season to 5.5 in the playoffs.
Coach Jeremy Kemp attributes this to the increased difficulty of playoff competition.
“There’s a lot better pitching now,” he said. “But we’re still scoring a lot of runs.”
And even though the Red Elephants haven’t been able to shut down playoff opponents like they did in the regular season, the depth of the Gainesville pitching staff has been a key factor in the team’s success. Each starter used so far (Hunter Anglin, David Gonzalez and Stephen Mason) has won at least one game in the postseason, with Mason winning both of his Game 3 starts. Reliever Ryan Griffith also turned in a strong relief performance in Game 2 against Dunwoody.
“Our kids are going out there and battling and they’re getting the job done. (Our pitchers) are giving up more runs than they were (in the regular season), but we’re seeing better teams. You’ve just got to find a way to win.”
Both the Red Elephants and Thomson have done that so far. The Bulldogs have swept both of their first two series against similar seeded teams, No. 4 seed LaGrange and No. 2 seed Cairo.
Even though Gainesville has taken the full three games to advance in each round, Kemp isn’t worried.
“We’ve played completely different teams (than Thomson has),” he said. “It (doesn’t) matter how you get there, you get no style points.”
While the Bulldogs’ scoring average has stayed relatively the same (9.3 in the regular season and 9.25 in the playoffs), their runs allowed has increased from 3.6 to 5.25.
A tendency to give up runs may mean trouble for the Bulldogs. Gainesville is capable of an extra-base hit in every spot in the lineup and has amassed 59 runs so far in the postseason.
In Game 3 against Dunwoody, the Red Elephants slapped eight doubles. They finished the series with 36 hits from eight different batters, led by K.J. McAllister, who finished the series 8-for-11 with four RBIs and seven runs scored.
As Kemp said, “We’re still getting a lot of hits.”
Abram Cartledge could get the call to slow down the Gainesville offense. The junior lefty is 10-2 on the season on won both of his Game 1 starts in the postseason.
Sophomore Andy Grimaud has been the Game 2 starter during the first two rounds for Thomson, while Kerry Austin and Nick Rau have worked relief innings.
Rau is also among the Bulldogs’ leaders at the plate. He and Will Tankersley lead the team with 11 home runs each.
But what do all these numbers really mean? Not much once the games get started.
“We’re both 0-0 going into the series,” Kemp said. “(Now) it just matters who wins two.”