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High school baseball: Zach Valentine's grand slam helps to lift Gainesville to 14-3 victory over West Hall
Gainesville's Zach Valentine throws a pitch during a game against West Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 26 at West Hall High School. - photo by Nathan Berg

The Gainesville baseball team got off to a slow start Wednesday evening against West Hall on the road, but more than made up for it to close things out. 

The Red Elephants (3-3) gave up three runs in the bottom of the first inning, but Zach Valentine launched a grand slam just over the right field fence in the fourth and Harris Bell batted in two with a single in the fifth to help Gainesville score 12 runs in the final two innings of a 14-3 victory over the Spartans.

The win completes a series sweep for the Red Elephants, who also took down West Hall 3-2 at home on Tuesday.

“I think we’re getting better,” Gainesville coach Adam Miller said. “It’s still a process. I feel like when we can play back-to-back days, we have a chance to work on consistency, and we sort of saw that. We played pretty good defense the last two days. We hope to build on that moving forward.”

Valentine also got the start at pitcher, giving up all three runs in the first but throwing a pair of scoreless innings in the second and the third. Victor Vega — who relieved Valentine in the fourth — shut out West Hall over the final two innings and added a couple of RBIs as well to help fuel the Red Elephant offense. Nick Sturm notched a pair of doubles for the Spartans (2-5), going 2 for 2 with an RBI and adding a walk on the day. 

Sturm got things started for West Hall, sending the very first pitch he saw all the way to the centerfield fence and bringing home Braden Simms for a run in the bottom of the first. Sturm would later reach home off a wild pitch. Tyler Maynard batted in a third run for the Spartans later in the inning, but that was all the offense West Hall would manage in the game. 

Vega picked up his first RBI for Gainesville with a ground out in the second inning, and Eudy Medina came home off a wild pitch in the fourth to tie the game up. 

Bell was hit by a pitch a few batters later to load the bases, setting the stage for Valentine’s shot that opened things up for Gainesville. 

He connected on the first pitch of his at bat, sending what looked to be a pop fly deep to right field. But the ball caught the wind just right, carrying over the fence to clear the bases and really get the Gainesville offense going. 

“Zach had an injury last year and missed most of the season, so we’re glad to have him back,” Miller said. “And then to see him on the mound and hit a grand slam, it’s a big night for him. We’re just excited for him and excited for what he can do for us moving forward.”

Vega retired three straight in the fourth inning, and the Red Elephants picked up right where they left off in the top of the fifth. Bell knocked in two runs early in the inning with a ground ball straight up the middle, and Gainesville added four more scores off wild pitches as high winds continued to blow throughout the night. 

West Hall’s Kyle Murphy hit a double in the bottom of the fifth to put runners on second and third with two outs and briefly give the Spartans some life, but Vega forced a ground out off the next batter to finish things off in five.

“The guys kept fighting and hung around (after a slow start), put pressure on them and good things happened,” Miller said. “That’s sort of what we want to do, and tonight we were able to do it.” 

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