Gainesville’s Stephen Mason wasn’t about to test the limits of his team’s early cushion against Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe on Saturday at Ivey-Watson Field.
After getting a big first-inning lead, Mason took to the mound and proceeded to allow no earned runs and only five hits over six innings in a 12-1 win against the Wildcats in Game 3 of Gainesville’s first round state playoff series.
With the win, the Red Elephants (26-2) advance to the second round where they will face the Dunwoody/Hart County winner Wednesday in Gainesville.
“Stephen had a great start,” Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said. “The only times he got into trouble was when he didn’t get ahead in the count.”
Gainesville and Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe (18-10) split Friday’s doubleheader with the Wildcats winning Game 1, 9-7, and the Red Elephants winning Game 2, 16-9.
The split made it necessary to play a third game.
With the series win, Gainesville advances past the first round for the first time since 2004.
“It was a good weekend for our team,” Kemp said. “Obviously, we wanted to win in two games, but our team came out ready to play.”
Kemp had no hesitation running Mason (7-0) out to the mound, even though he pitched two innings of relief in Game 1.
Gainesville put up six runs in the first inning as Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe starting pitcher, Dylan Culver, had trouble finding the strike zone and allowed four walks and had three wild pitches in his only inning of work.
In that big-run first, Mason had a two-run double, Will Maddox added an RBI double and Anderson Loggins had a two-out RBI single.
Another run scored when Michael Lorentz struck out and got to first base on a passe ball.
“I knew once we got those early runs on the board, all I would have to do is go out and throw strikes,” Mason said. “I can’t say enough about how the defense played behind me.”
Along with his day on the mound, Mason also had a stellar day at the plate with two hits, two runs scored and two RBIs. Each of Gainesville’s hitters scored at least one run and pinch hitter Jimmy Kemp drove in a run with an RBI single.
Sloan Strickland also provided another big blast for the Red Elephants.
After his two home runs and seven RBIs in Game 2 Friday night, he added a three-run home run for Gainesville in the fourth inning Saturday, following an RBI single from shortstop K.J. McAllister.
Strickland finished the series with three home runs, five hits and 11 RBIs.
“Sloan is a four-year starter for this team and we expect him to have a big postseason,” Kemp said. “He was clutch all weekend.”
Mason managed to get out of trouble in each of the first three innings with only one unearned run crossing the plate.
Defensively, it was clear the Red Elephants were behind him from the start as Ryan Griffith made a diving catch in center field with two outs in the first inning, preventing the runner at second base from scoring also.
In the second inning with two on base, Mason managed to pitch his way out of trouble by getting the final two hitters in the inning to fly out.
Then in the third, Gainesville made a heads-up play after what appeared to be a routine fly ball fell in.
With runners on first and second and no outs for the Wildcats, Matt Osbourn singled to short left field, but the lead runner went back to the base under the impression it would be played cleanly by McAllister.
When the ball dropped in, McAllister alertly threw to third for the force out. The third baseman then relayed the ball to second for the second out.
Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe’s only run came on a double steal in the third inning that scored Justin Walker, who reached when he was hit by a pitch. Dylan Culver lead the Wildcats with two hits at the plate.
For Gainesville, Mason and Maddox each finished with two hits.
With the loss, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe’s season is complete.