Not even the state’s top-ranked baseball team is safe from a bad day at the park.
In the case of Gainesville, which holds that distinction, that bad day came at the worst time.
The Red Elephants (27-5) struggled to remain consistent at the plate and suffered costly defensive errors in their Class AAAAA state quarterfinal series with Whitewater on Tuesday at Ivey-Watson Field, and the end result was a two-game sweep to end their season. They fell in the first game 2-1 after an 11-inning affair, and dropped the second game 4-3 to see their state championship hopes come to a premature end for another year.
Yet even after a series that certainly didn’t feature the typically dominant Gainesville team that won a Region 8-AAAAA title and climbed its way to the top of the state rankings, coach Jeremy Kemp knows exactly where his 2013 group stands in his career at the Red Elephants’ helm.
“The most talented team I’ve coached,” Kemp said. “We’re a really good team that had a really, really bad day.”
The bad day came in the tune of 29 strikeouts and six defensive errors between the two games, as fifth-ranked Whitewater (26-7) punched its ticket to the state semifinals for the fourth consecutive year and won its third road series of the playoffs.
The Wildcats host Greenbrier on Monday for a chance to play in the championship series.
“Nobody thought we’d be able to jump up to AAAAA and compete,” said Kemp, whose Red Elephants reached the Class AAA semifinals last season. “I think we’re very, very competitive in AAAAA, and I think we will be for a long time to come. We just have to keep getting closer to winning one.”
For much of Game 1, it seemed to be that way.
They held a 1-0 lead for most of the game, before Whitewater tied the game in the sixth, then took the lead in the 11th inning on a RBI single by pinch hitter Nick Weinstein that scored Nick Fuerstenau.
Gainesville answered in the bottom of the 11th with a double by Hunter Anglin, who sprinted around third and attempted to score on a single by Luke Moore on the ensuing at-bat. A relay throw home by Wildcats leftfielder Zack Hudson beat Anglin to the plate, and the Red Elephants senior was tagged out.
Otherwise, the game was decided by each team’s abilities on the mound, beginning in a duel between a pair of aces and the closers that relieved them.
Michael Gettys pitched the first seven innings for Gainesville, striking out 13 hitters and walking just one. He fanned six batters through the first two innings of work and recorded a strikeout in all but one inning of his appearance. It included escaping a jam in the top of the third, when the Red Elephants turned a 4-6-3 double play with the bases loaded and one out to keep Whitewater off the scoreboard.
Everything Gettys threw a Whitewater was matched with similar numbers in the top of the frame by Wildcat starter Jake Lee, who struck out 11 and walked one in his seven-inning stint.
Anglin replaced Gettys in the eighth, and took the loss after striking out eight hitters in four innings. Whitewater went with Cam Weselowski, who struck out seven over the same span and picked up the win.
“Pitching today was unreal,” Kemp said. “I can’t remember a ball they hit hard. It seemed like ball just found holes for them.”
Gainesville took its initial lead in the third when Wildcats centerfielder Jake Wilkinson dropped a routine fly ball hit by Sims Griffith, allowing Luke Maddox to stroll home and put the Red Elephants up by one.
Taylor Turner finally gave Whitewater its first run in the sixth on a double to left that scored Fuerstenau and tied the game.
Turner was the only Wildcat with multiple hits in Game 1, going 2 for 4.
WHITEWATER 4, GAINESVILLE 3: The Wildcats rallied from a 2-0 deficit to complete the series sweep in Game 2.
After Skyler Weber hit a two-run home run to give the Red Elephants an early two-run lead, Fuerstenau batted in a run on a bases-loaded fielders choice in the bottom of the first to cut Gainesville’s lead to one. Whitewater tied the game om the fourth when Jabari Richards stole home during another steal attempt by Weinstein at second, and Weinstein himself scored two at-bats later on a passed ball to give the Wildcats a lead.
Fuerstenau knocked in Brandon Bell in the fifth to put Whitewater up 4-2.
“That was the plan coming in — bunt, steal, run, and try to put a little pressure,” Whitewater coach Mark Jones said. “To some extent it worked. We couldn’t stand out there and strike out batter after batter after batter and expect to score”
Moore hit a sacrifice ground out in the sixth that scored Weber and put Gainesville back within one, but Weselowski held the Red Elephants hitless in the seventh and picked up the save in his second appearance of the series.
Ethan Gillis recorded the Game 2 for Whitewater, striking out nine hitters and walking four in 5 1/3 innings.
“You have to tip your hat to their pitchers — they did a good job,” Kemp said. “They kept us off balance all day long. We probably struck out more in both games than we’ve struck out all year.”
Jonathan Gettys took the loss, striking out four and walking five in four innings of work. Chandler Newton relieved the freshman in the fifth, allowing one hit and one run.
Weber ended the series as Gainesville’s most productive hitter, collecting two knocks in each game and going 4 for 7 with two runs and two RBIs in the series.