For the fourth consecutive season, Gainesville is headed into the state baseball playoffs with the region championship.
On Friday, the Red Elephants (20-5, 15-3 Region 8-AAAAA) topped Apalachee 16-1 in four innings, securing the top seed to the Class AAAAA state tournament and home-field advantage.
Gainesville opens the postseason with a best-of-three opening-round series with a doubleheader Friday against Cambridge. Game time is still to be determined.
“It’s an awesome feeling to know we’ll be home for the first two rounds of the playoffs,” Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said.
Red Elephants senior first baseman/right-handed pitcher Caleb Whitenton said he has a good feeling about what they’ll be able to accomplish in the field of 32 in the postseason. Whitenton said the experience and chemistry on the field of a veteran group will help as it strives for a state championship.
“It feels great to come out here and be able to win another region championship,” said Whitenton, who will likely pitch Game 2 of the first-round series. “It’s a great confidence boost.”
The Red Elephants are heading into the postseason with two run-rule wins against Apalachee in three days, and five straight region victories to wrap up the regular season.
Gainesville was able to keep a regular routine of games down the stretch, avoiding any rainouts and forced make-up days. Kemp said credit for keeping Ivey-Watson Field in superb shape goes to the hard work of field crew director David Presnell.
Apalachee ended the regular season with a backlog of games, playing five times in the final week due to rainouts.
Gainesville took care of business early against Apalachee by driving in four runs with sacrifice flies deep in the outfield.
Michael Curry, Banks Griffith, Jonathan Gettys and Fedrick Cardona each pushed a run across the plate with a runner at third and a fly ball to the outfield. Curry had Gainesville’s first sacrifice fly, scoring Cardona, who reached on an infield single. Third baseman Mikey Gonzalez also scored from third base for the Red Elephants in the first after a passed ball.
“It’s great to see us able to manufacture runs like we did (Friday),” Kemp said.
Gainesville’s biggest hit of the game came on right fielder Brandon Sewell’s fourth-inning grand slam. Sewell had his only two home runs of the regular season against Apalachee, one on Wednesday and the grand slam. Just like in 2014, Sewell is hitting his best late in the season. Sewell hit five home runs over Gainesville’s four playoff rounds last season.
“I’ve finally started to relax at the plate,” said Sewell. “I’d been putting too much pressure on myself when I was hitting.”
“Brandon’s really come on at the plate these last few weeks, which is great to see,” Kemp said.
Also in the fourth inning, Curry roped a two-run double down the left-field line. Red Elephants left fielder Gettys reached on a single to load the bases.
The left-handed Gettys will likely throw the series opener against Cambridge. In addition to his fourth-inning single against Apalachee, Gettys had a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded in the third inning. Sewell had an RBI single in the third for Gainesville, and Cardona was responsible for the Red Elephants’ final sacrifice of the night.
Ross Tipton slapped an RBI single for the walk-off run for Gainesville in the fourth.
Hayden Hubler drove in Apalachee’s lone run with an RBI double in the second inning.
Harrison Styles threw all four innings for Gainesville, allowing five hits and a pair of walks.