OAKWOOD — Gainesville High’s baseball team could just as easily have been called Bennett’s Bombers on Wednesday night.
The Red Elephants’ senior first baseman Zach Bennett set a new school record with three home runs and drove in five runs as part of his team’s 18-2 win over Johnson (3-2, 0-1 Region 7-AAA) in Oakwood.
All of those home runs from a player who hasn’t been touted for his overwhelming power in the past. To put that accomplishment into proper context, Bennett had roughly twice the number of career homeruns as he had on Wednesday during the Red Elephants’ (2-4, 1-0) region opener.
With home runs in each of his first three at bats, Bennett accomplished a feat unmatched by some of Gainesville’s best hitters in school history, such as Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Micah Owings and his younger brother, and Braves minor leaguer, Jon Mark Owings.
“I definitely didn’t come out here trying to hit three home runs tonight,” Bennett said. “But it’s very exciting.”
Bennett’s three-run home run in the third inning broke the game wide open. His two-out home run scored Robby Hefflinger and Zach Thellman, who reached base on a bloop single to short right field.
Bennett’s other two home runs were solo shots to lead off the second and sixth innings.
“Zach’s been hitting the ball well, even though he hasn’t had a lot to show for it before tonight,” Gainesville coach Wayne Vickery said. “He’s got a little lift to it when he hits the ball.”
The Red Elephants finished the game with 16 hits and helped erase any lingering memory of a sluggish start to the season with consecutive loses to Buford, Statesboro and Glynn Academy.
“I think we’re a better team than we’ve shown,” Vickery said. “The important thing now is that we’re 1-0 in the region and where we want to be right now, and our goal is to be 22-0.”
Bennett wasn’t the only Gainesville hitter swinging a hot bat against the Knights.
Red Elephants catcher Robby Hefflinger finished the game 4-for-5 with a team-high 6 RBIs. Hefflinger had a grand slam as well as an RBI single to score Thellman as part of an 11 run seventh inning.
Lorenzo Jerome finished the game with two hits and a pair of RBIs for the Red Elephants. Robert Hughes had a hit for Gainesville with a pair of RBIs in the seventh.
Blaine Martin and Thellman each finished with two hits for the Red Elephants.
“It’s good that we all came ready to play,” Bennett said. “We were tired of losing.”
On the mound, Gainesville was just as solid with six strong innings from senior right hander Max Joseph. He faced the minimum over the first 3 1/3 innings and finished the game with eight strikeouts.
In his previous outing, Joseph had nine strikeouts against Statesboro at Georgia Southern.
“Max has pitched really well his last two outings,” Vickery added.
Bobby Wirsing had Johnson’s only RBI with a single to score Will Rowlett in the sixth inning. Nick Denard, Jared Stone and Logan Pethel also had hits for the Knights.
Gainesville plays host to Flowery Branch at 5:30 p.m. on Friday at Ivey-Watson Park. Johnson visits East Hall at 5:30 p.m. on Friday.
“We have two really big games coming up with Flowery Branch and then North Hall next Monday,” Vickery said.