For the second time in the series, Gainesville High’s baseball team was left scrambling for runs late, only this time it came up short in a 3-1 loss to Dacula for the finale of a Region 8-AAAAAA series on what was otherwise a momentous Friday night at Ivey-Watson Field.
The Red Elephants (18-7, 8-4 Region 8-AAAAAA) paid homage to four local youths for the program’s first-ever childhood cancer awareness promotion, and were on the verge of a third-consecutive series sweep when they landed the first blow behind an A.J. Smallwood sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fourth inning.
But Gainesville failed to build on their lead, leaving eight runners on base — four in scoring position — despite connecting for a combined six hits, two from right fielder Charlie Wall (2 for 3, run scored) who led off the bottom of the fourth with a first-pitch double.
“I’m not sure what we were, but you can’t win games without hitting with runners in scoring position,” Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said. "And we didn’t do that tonight.”
Dacula (20-9, 7-5) rallied back to score three runs off of three hits and one error in the top of the fifth.
Kemp applauded his defense for coming up with a few web gems along the way to keep things close. Gainesville starting pitcher Kyle York (five innings pitched, four hits, five strikeouts) tossed four shutout frames with four strikeouts before the Falcons’ resurgence.
Meanwhile Gainesville sidearm hurler Jay Hinshaw in relief threw four strikeouts and only gave up three hits in the final two innings pitched.
After both teams traded three scoreless innings, the Red Elephants finally pulled things together in the bottom of the fourth with Wall’s two-bagger initiating the charge. Wall fired a line drive between the outfielders and trotted into second.
A passed ball moved Wall to third base, and Smallwood, who was one of the four individuals honored before the game, floated a ball just deep enough to left field for Wall to tag up and put Gainesville on the board first.
But the Falcons struck back on the very next frame by capitalizing on a pair of Red Elephants errors. Three-straight Falcons hits, the first a double by Jubriel Felix (1 for 3, run scored) plating Marcerio Allen (1 for 2, run scored) — who was hit by a pitch — off a called hit-and-run.
A bunt single by Dacula’s Tyler Brown, followed by a throwing error by the catcher gave the Falcons their second run. And a Henry Helfrich (1 for 2, RBI) one-run single gave the Falcons a two-run advantage.
Dacula tried the hit-and-run tactic a second time, but the Red Elephants escaped by turning an 8-3 double play, as center fielder Corbin Lindsay caught a flyball and then threw to first for the final out.
“They got a couple of big hits, got some momentum. ...They just got something going, and we didn’t take care of the ball that inning but for the rest of the game we played pretty good,” Kemp said.
With one region series and a non-region contest left on the docket, Gainesville can lock down second place in the conference with two wins against Apalachee next week. A probable No. 2 playoff seed as well would give the Red Elephants a first-round series at home.
The afternoon managed to begin with a heartfelt ceremony conducted by the high school, the “Going Gold For Childhood Cancer” promotion. Fans watched from the bleachers and listened to a speech conducted by the team’s public address announcer. Smallwood, a recent cancer survivor and the starting left fielder, was the last to have his named called before a ceremonial first pitch.
In addition, all Gainesville players sported gold socks for the game.
“It really puts things in perspective for the rest of us,” Kemp said.
Asher Rock, Riley Johnson Eli Ligon and Smallwood each received cordial standing ovations from the diamond’s center.
Smallwood was embraced by each of his teammates as he made his way toward the home dugout.
Smallwood underwent multiple rounds of chemotherapy following a diagnosis with testicular cancer in 2015. He was able to return to the team in 2016 and is now cancer free.
“It means a lot,” Smallwood said. “I went through a hard time, but I got through it — thank you to God, family and friends for their support. They’re amazing. It’s just really a blessing to be back out here.”
On Monday, Gainesville visits Apalachee at 5:55 p.m. in Winder.