Gainesville vs. Carrollton
When: Game 1, 4 p.m. Tuesday, Game 2, to follow; If necessary, Game 3, 4 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Ivey-Watson Field
Coaches: Gainesville, Jeremy Kemp; Carrollton, Craig George
Records: Gainesville (29-0, No. 1 Region 8-AAA); Carrollton (19-12, No. 2 Region 6-AAA)
Key players: Gainesville, 2B Stephen Mason Sr. (.505 avg., 6 HRs, 37 RBIs); P/1B David Gonzalez Sr. (10-0, 1.06 ERA, 75 Ks); P/ OF Michael Gettys So. (10-0, 1.99 ERA, 67 Ks; .367 avg. 7 HRs, 40 RBIs). Carrollton, P Tanner Roach Jr.; P Christopher Hicks Jr.; SS Dallas Dickey Sr.
Buford vs. Pierce County
When: Game 1 4 p.m. Tuesday, Game 2 to follow; If necessary, Game 3 3 p.m. Wednesday
Coaches: Buford, Tony Wolfe; Pierce County, Greg Gay
Records: Buford (20-10, No. 2 Region 6-AA); Pierce County (25-5, No. 2 Region 2-AA)
Key players: Buford, P Sam Clay Sr.; 3B Josh Bryan Jr.; C/1B Mikey Bart Jr. Pierce County, P Will Lowman Sr.; P Will White Sr.; 1B/OF Drew Taylor Sr.; 2B Cole Dowling Jr.
In high school baseball, there are no style points.
The goal is to first win regular season games, then win in the region tournament, and, finally, the state tournament. That is the only path to a state championship — the ultimate goal for anyone who takes the field.
The two area teams still alive in their respective classifications’ state playoffs, Buford and Gainesville, may have taken different roads, but both find themselves hosting state quarterfinals series.
And right now, there’s no better position to be in than that.
The Red Elephants’ road has been smooth.
They have won every time they’ve taken the field — 29 consecutive games. They have done it with a combination of dominant pitching, led by senior David Gonzalez and sophomore Michael Gettys, and barrage of hitters who have combined to average 10.6 runs per game.
On the other side of the spectrum is Buford.
The Wolves lost the majority of their starting lineup from a state championship team a year ago, including ace pitchers Josh Heddinger and Jake Burnette.
The result was a 2-7 start to the 2012 season, forcing the younger players to step up and learn on the fly.
And they did.
Ever since a 10-4 loss to Winder-Barrow in the ninth game of the season, Buford (20-10) has gone 18-3, including three shutouts and a 9-2 win to begin the state playoffs.
“You just have to give a lot of credit to our senior class,” coach Tony Wolfe said. “They are the ones that kept us focused when it would have been pretty easy to become distracted and discouraged. We essentially came out with a completely different team than a year ago, so we went through some growing pains. But we found where some guys work and gave them the opportunity to help us win.
“Now, we’re playing better in every part of the game.”
Regardless of the road each team took, each has put itself in the final eight and given itself an opportunity to chase that ultimate goal.
GAINESVILLE VS. CARROLLTON: The quarterfinals have already featured a stroke of good luck for the Red Elephants. When Carrollton, a No. 2 seed in the state tournament, topped No. 1-seed Spalding in three games last week, it assured Gainesville of playing at home for the duration of its run through the playoffs. That includes a series against Carrollton beginning with a doubleheader Tuesday at Ivey-Watson Field.
Had Spalding won, the Red Elephants would have traveled to Griffin for the series.
That’s not to say that Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp isn’t concerned about the opponent his team drew.
“I have a lot of respect for that program,” he said. “Carrollton has a lot of team speed, great pitching and it is very well-coached. We’re happy we play at home, but this isn’t going to be an easy team to face.”
The Trojans (19-12) won the majority of their games behind their strong arms. Their pitchers have allowed an average of just 3.2 runs per game, never allowing more than nine.
Gainesville figures to be a bit more of a task than some of the teams Carrollton has faced, however. Four regular starters for the Red Elephants are hitting above .400 for the season. Six have recorded 25 or more RBIs and three have hit five or more home runs. Leadoff hitter Stephen Mason is perhaps the most dangerous, hitting .505 with six home runs and 37 RBIs for the season.
“I can’t say enough about the guys hitting at the top of the order for us,” Kemp said.
And then there is the pitching.
Gonzalez and Gettys both sport ERAs below 2.00 and perfect 10-0 records. And Kemp is equally confident with Hunter Anglin, who has a .96 ERA in only about 13 fewer innings.
More than anything, though, Kemp likes his team’s attitude. Despite the perfect record, he said, his players have maintained perspective.
“Going undefeated would be a bonus and rewarding for the kids at the end of the year, but that’s not our goal,” he said. “This team knows how to lose, and they hate it. They hate to lose as much as they love to win. So we focus on going out and getting the first game, winning the games we can, and we know everything else will take care of itself.”
BUFORD VS. PIERCE COUNTY: A year ago, the Wolves swept Pierce County in two games in the Class AA state quarterfinals. This year, the two will meet again, beginning with a doubleheader Tuesday in Buford.
Both teams’ coaches know that a lot has changed, however.
“They’ve got (11) seniors and a lot of starters back from a year ago,” Wolfe said. “We’re very different. That’s a very good team, and we’ve got to be good and hope things go our way.”
“Buford is a great team,” Pierce County (25-5) coach Greg Gay said. “Offensively, they’re still very good. But they aren’t the same team we faced last year. They’re still Buford, but we feel like we’re playing pretty good baseball, too. We’re a mature team. We’re confident.”
Wolfe feels good about his team’s progression throughout the season. Defensively, he said, his team averaged more than two errors per game early in the season. Now, the Wolves have just 47 errors in 30 games.
Offensively, they averaged around nine strikeouts per game for the first 10 games. Now, the Wolves have struck out 157 times in 30 games, barely more than five per contest.
“This group has really grown up and played sound baseball,” Wolfe said. “This group is really hungry and wants to prove they are a good baseball team, too. We’re playing with a lot of confidence.
“Wins do that to you.”