When most hitters are intentionally walked or pitched around they take it as a compliment; Gainesville High’s K.J. McAllister took it as a unique way to get to third base.
Walked three times against North Hall on Wednesday, McAllister stole second and third base on two different occasions en route to setting a Gainesville school record with five stolen bases in one game.
His final two steals came when Gainesville (9-1, 3-0 Region 7-AAA) needed it the most.
With the game tied 5-5, McAllister walked to lead off the top of the seventh inning, stole second and third during Ryan Griffith’s at bat, and then scored the game-winning run when Griffith hit a sacrifice fly to right field to give the Red Elephants a 6-5 win against the Trojans.
“I just became used to it,” McAllister said of the free passes. “I figured if they walked me then they were just giving me two bases.”
McAllister wasn’t the only Red Elephant to use his speed, as Gainesville set a new team record with 10 stolen bases against North Hall (5-6, 2-3 Region 7-AAA). Conversely, Gainesville senior catcher Sloan Strickland was 3-for-3 in throwing out attempted base stealers.
“The reason we won was because we could run on them but they couldn’t run on us,” Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said. “We’re going to run on everybody if they can’t stop us.”
Thanks to McAllister, who played at North Hall for three years, the Red Elephants knew that the Trojans wouldn’t slow down their baserunners.
“From playing with them, I knew I could run on them,” said McAllister, who singled in his other at bat and scored four runs. “It definitely helped us win the game.”
So too did the pitching of sophomore Stephen Mason, who entered the game with two outs in the third inning after North Hall rallied from a 3-0 deficit to take a 4-3 lead.
That rally started with a lead-off double by Eli Gilmer, who scored along with Chris Stevens on a two-run single from Jackson Coker. Holden Keller followed up Coker’s hit with an RBI single to right and he and Ryan Pitts scored on consecutive hits by Jacob Brewster and Lee Sisson, who was the first batter Mason faced.
Trailing by two runs, McAllister drew an intentional walk to start the top of the fifth that sparked the Red Elephants’ offense. After McAllister stole second and advanced to third on an errant throw from the catcher, Strickland walked and was replaced by courtesy runner Dallas DeFoor. Like the rest of his teammates had done all game, DeFoor stole second, and as North Hall’s shortstop attempted to cut off the throw to the base, McAllister broke for home to cut the deficit to one run.
Griffith tied the game with an RBI single to right that scored DeFoor.
“Our five spot wasn’t enough,” North Hall coach Trent Mongero said. “We just didn’t make the plays and it came back to haunt us in the end.”
With the game tied Mason settled down and retired five out of the next six hitters he faced. The lone baserunner, who walked with one out in the fifth inning, was thrown out by Strickland trying to steal second. He got into a bit of a jam in the sixth inning by giving up a hit and issuing two walks to load the bases with two outs. But like he did when he first entered the game, Mason came through with a critical strikeout to prevent any runs from scoring.
“I always want the ball when it comes down to it,” said Mason, who finished with five strikeouts. “I struggled at first, but I knew the guys behind me could make plays as long as I kept throwing strikes.”
He also knew that his team, which scored 16 or more runs in the last two games, was fully capable of coming back to win.
“I knew we’d eventually put some runs on the board,” Mason said.
The Red Elephants proved him right in the seventh, and although the Trojans did get a man on base in the home half of the inning, that runner was caught stealing by Strickland and Mason struck out the final batter to secure the win.
“Great teams find a way to win,” Kemp said.
Even Mongero had to give Gainesville credit.
“Any time we play Gainesville it’s a good game,” he said. “I have to tip my cap to them.”
Gainesville, which built a 3-0 lead in the first three innings on RBI singles from Strickland, Mason and Griffith, plays host to East Hall at 5:55 p.m. Friday.
North Hall, which has now lost three straight, plays host to Chestatee at 7 p.m. Friday.