Despite the constant pressure of playing for a region championship, the Gainesville High baseball team is staying focused and in the hunt.
The Red Elephants kept pace with North Hall and White County on Friday with a convincing 11-1 win over Stephens County that clinched a berth in the Class AAA state playoffs.
"We accomplished goal No. 1," said Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp, whose team remains a game behind the Trojans and Warriors for first place in the region. "Right now, you have to keep pace with everybody and stay within striking distance."
Gainesville hosts North Hall on Monday.
Junior Ryan Griffith led the way for Gainesville (18-4, 16-4 Region 8-AAA) by going 2-for-3 with two doubles and three RBIs. His two-run double in the first inning gave the Red Elephants a 2-1 lead and jumpstarted the offense.
"We needed to get off to a good start," said Griffith, who had two strikeouts after coming on in relief of Michael Gettys in the fourth inning.
Griffith's RBI double in the third inning increased the lead to 5-1. That large lead, plus the fact Gettys is still recovering from arm troubles, made Kemp switch pitchers in the top of the fourth inning.
"We threw two guys who had to throw," Kemp said. "Gettys has had arm trouble, but I thought he looked great, and we're going to be counting on Ryan as our main relief pitcher in the playoffs."
Gettys allowed a lead-off double in the first inning, but he retired the next nine batters he faced, three via strikeout.
The Red Elephants added two runs in the bottom of the fourth on an RBI single by Skyler Weber and a bloop single by Will Maddox.
With their offense and pitching clicking, the defense took over in the top of the fifth when Shad Petree started the inning with a diving catch in center field, and Stephen Mason finished it with a nice backhand stop in the hole to leave runners stranded on first and third.
"I thought we played good all the way around," Kemp said. "These kids do a good job at focusing and winning games."
They don't do a bad job at putting teams away either.
Needing four runs to invoke the mercy rule, Gainesville's first two batters reached base to start the fifth inning and later scored on an RBI double by Gettys. After Gettys scored on an error to make the score 10-1, Gainesville ended the game on an RBI single from pinch hitter Ryan Pitts.
A convincing 10-run win with North Hall looming is just the result Kemp needed to see, especially since Monday's game could be the difference between a No. 1 and No. 3 seed in the state tournament.
"It's going to be a great game against a great team," Griffith said. "We want to win region, and if things fall the right way, we can reach our goal."