Gainesville senior David Gonzalez knew what he stood to accomplish, but he kept that knowledge in the back of his mind when he took the mound Wednesday night.
A little over two hours later, the right-hander could finally talk about how much his 20th career win meant to him.
“It feels really good. Obviously, I wouldn’t have 20 wins if it wasn’t for the team,” he said. “But it feels good to finally accomplish that.”
Gonzalez recorded the milestone win, not to mention his fifth of the season, in a 7-1 win over Region 8-AAA South opponent Walnut Grove at Ivey Watson Park in Gainesville.
With the win, the No. 2-ranked Red Elephants (17-0, 12-0) move closer to clinching the subregion and increase their lead over second-place Oconee County (10-6, 7-5) to five games after the Warriors fell to Monroe Area on Wednesday. Gainesville has six subregion games left on the schedule.
Gonzalez, a University of Georgia signee, finished with 11 strikeouts and allowed just three hits and no earned runs to stay undefeated on the season.
“He’s been very efficient,” Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said of his senior. “Today he did a great job of throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters.”
And he did it against a group of hitters in the opposing dugout who had been waiting for their chance against the highly-touted pitcher.
“They kind of get excited about it,” Walnut Grove coach Danny Daigle said. “It’s the challenge of seeing that velocity, that stuff.”
That velocity, and that stuff, was on display most of the night, but none more so than in his final inning, when the fireballer struck out the side to finish his 90-pitch night. Ryan Griffith pitched a scoreless final inning to secure the win for the Red Elephants.
“I could have gone out again, but Ryan needed that,” Gonzalez said. “I feel confident handing the ball over to the guys on this team.”
Gonzalez also helped his cause at the plate, finishing 2 for 3 with a pair of RBIs against Walnut Grove (3-13, 3-8) ace, southpaw Drew Merritt, who finished with three earned runs in five innings of work to take the loss.
Gainesville put him to the test right away, taking advantage of an error by the Warriors’ left fielder on a fly ball by Red Elephants leadoff hitter Stephen Mason, who advanced to second on the drop.
Gainesville catcher Skyler Weber took first after being hit by a pitch, and first baseman Ryan Griffith brought both runners home with a two-run double into the right field gap. It would prove to be all the runs Gainesville would need, but Gonzalez gave himself a little cushion with a run-scoring infield single to the hole beyond second base to put the hosts ahead 3-0.
“That’s really good, because then I can pitch with the lead, throw in the strike zone,” Gonzalez said. “And it’s good to come back out and go 1-2-3.”
He did just that in the second, setting the Walnut Grove batters down in order for the first of two 1-2-3 innings.
Merritt settled down as well, allowing just one unearned run over the next three innings until Gonzalez’s sacrifice fly in the fifth.
The Warriors, meanwhile, put pressure on the Gainesville right-hander. They loaded the bases in the third before Gonzalez induced a groundout to first base, and put two runners in scoring position in the fifth after a pair of infield singles and a throwing error.
Another throwing error allowed Walnut Grove to score its lone run of the game when Hunter Rabb ran home on a throw to second by Gainesville to try to catch the runner off the base after an easy groundout for the second out. The throw home to get Rabb went past the catcher and set up another runner on third, which Gonzalez promptly stranded after inducing a groundout to the shortstop.
Gainesville brought the lead back up to four in the bottom of the fifth after Griffith singled, stole second and third before scoring on Gonzalez’s long fly ball.
The Red Elephants offense wasn’t done. In the sixth, designated hitter Caleb Whitenton greeted Warriors reliever Justin Bedingfield with a home run blast over the right-center field wall. Sims Griffith scored Gainesville’s final run after reaching on an infield single, stealing second and third, and coming home on a wild pitch.
While it ended up being a six-run win, Kemp was pleased to see his team win yet another game that stayed close for most of the night. Gainesville also won 3-1 against Lanier on Monday.
“This is what helps your team,” he said. “These games like tonight and Monday.”
Kemp expects another close game when Gainesville gets back to the diamond at 5:55 p.m. Monday at Johnson (10-7, 6-5), which is tied for third in the region with Lanier, although the Longhorns hold the tiebreaker after a second win over the Knights on Wednesday.