Gainesville second baseman Stephen Mason said his team was just looking for a win against cross-region rival North Hall on Friday.
And with the team in a dogfight in the third inning, he made sure that hope became a reality.
With Gainesville leading 4-3 with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the third, Mason took a pitch in his wheelhouse over the right-field wall for a grand slam to give the Red Elephants a comfortable 8-3 lead. Gainesville went on to win the game 9-3 at Ivey Watson Park, guaranteeing itself home-field advantage in the Region 8-AAA championship series.
“He had been throwing me off-speed stuff all game, but he put it right in my wheelhouse,” he said. “Luckily, I was able to step up.”
Early in the game, it looked like the Red Elephants (20-0, 15-0 Region 8-AAA South) would need all the contributions they could get. North Hall (13-6, 10-3) came out unfazed by matching up against the No. 2 team in Class AAA, taking an early 3-0 lead in the first inning.
After starting pitcher David Gonzalez issued walks to Zach Mize with one out and Griffin Olson with two, Trojans designated hitter Cody Fowler ripped a three-run home run over the right-field wall to go ahead.
As good teams do, however, the Red Elephants settled in. They scored one in the bottom of the first, two in the second, five in the third and one in the fourth, all while holding North Hall at bay.
“Yeah, that scared me for a minute there,” Red Elephants coach Jeremy Kemp said after the game. “They hit us in the mouth, but we responded. It ended up being a good thing. Hated it at the time, but it was a good thing.”
Gainesville worked the game to a 3-3 tie through two innings, plating one in the first on an RBI single from Ryan Griffith and two in the second on a single from catcher Skyler Weber.
It was that big third inning, however, that put Gainesville over the top.
Hunter Anglin led off the inning with a double to deep left-center field. Gonzalez followed with a single, and Michael Gettys walked to load the bases with nobody out.
The following batter struck out looking, and, after a sacrifice fly from Luke Moore scored one but accounted for the second out in the inning, it looked as if North Hall may escape with minimal damage.
An infield hit by Sims Griffith, however, loaded the bases again, setting up Mason’s big fly over the right-field wall.
“When you play North Hall, it’s always great,” Mason said. “And hitting a grad slam on Senior Night in this game, it’s pretty special.”
Kemp said he was glad to see his team swing the bats well on Friday.
“We can struggle hitting the ball at times,” Kemp said. “But we did well. It’s always fun against North Hall, and we’re glad it was a win.”
Mason finished 2 for 3 with five RBIs and two runs scored in the game. Weber finished 1 for 3 with two RBIs, and Gonzalez was 3 for 3, scoring one run.
It was Gonzalez’s strong effort on the mound, perhaps, that really made the difference for Gainesville, however.
The hard-throwing right-hander admittedly didn’t have his best stuff, as evidenced by a first inning in which he walked two batters and gave up a home run.
He pitched five strong innings from the second on, striking out five batters, and allowing four hits and no runs in that span. He only allowed five hits while striking out six for the game.
“I was a little amped in the first inning,” he said. “I couldn’t find the strike zone with my fastball. But I got in the groove, I think. As soon as I went out in the second inning, I knew that if I could put some zeroes on the board that we would win the game.”
Both Mason and Kemp echoed Gonzalez’s sentiments.
“We kept our faith in David the whole time,” Mason said. “He’s a great pitcher.”
“He did a great job,” Kemp said of his pitcher. “He didn’t have his best stuff, but he battled and hung in there for a quality start.”
Next, Gainesville hosts Oconee County and North Hall hosts White County, both on Monday.