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Prep baseball: Gainesville's Bennett comes up clutch in region win
Brandon Pendley of North Hall gets caught in a rundown by Gainesville's Max Joseph. Pendley was eventually tagged out. - photo by Tom Reed | The Times


Gainesville senior Zach Bennett talks about the big region win against North Hall and pitching against North Hall ace Josh Wright.

Allow one run on the pitchers mound, then save the day in extra innings with a game-winning home run. All in a typical day of work for Gainesville High’s Zach Bennett.

Bennett struck out 11 hitters in 6 À innings before hitting his eighth home run of the season in the bottom of the eighth inning to defeat North Hall 3-1 on Monday night at Ivey-Watson field.

With the win, the Red Elephants remain tied with Flowery Branch for first place in Region 7-AAA.

“It’s always good to bounce back with a big win,” Gainesville (13-5, 12-2 Region 7-AAA) coach Wayne Vickery said, refering to Gainesville’s loss to the Falcons on Friday. “Our goal is to be in one of the top two spots at the end of the season and get to play at home.”

In an anticipated pitchers duel between Bennett and North Hall ace Josh Wright, a total of only six hits were collected between the two teams.

“Wright and Bennett both pitched great,” Vickery said. “You have to give credit to both teams.”

Despite losing, North Hall (12-6, 9-5) remains in the playoff hunt, tied with White County for the fourth spot in the region.

The Trojans surprised the Gainesville defense in top of the first inning with a leadoff home run by Josh Haymore.

Despite the early tally, Bennett countered the home run with seven strikeouts over the next three innings.

“I don’t throw pitches in the high 80’s, so I tried to keep hitters off balance,” Bennett said. “I had to keep hitters unaware of what’s coming.”

The Red Elephants would tie the game 1-1 by taking advantage of a pitching mistake by North Hall.

After hitting Justin Fordham and walking Robby Hefflinger and Bennett, Wright balked on a pitch intended for Adam Parker, allowing Fordham to score.

The anticipated pitchers duel followed, with no runs and a double by North Hall’s Jackson Coker as the only the hit over a four-inning span, sending the game into the extra innings.

The Trojans finally made contact in the top of the eighth inning on a single by K.J. McAllister, but found the bases empty again after he was caught stealing. Fordham, who was pitching in relief, walked the next two batters but was able to end the inning without allowing any runs.

“Fordham deserves credit for how he pitched in the last three innings,” Vickery said. “He got out of situations where they had runners on second and third.”

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Hefflinger was intentionally walked with two outs, allowing Bennett to hit the game-winning home run to right field.

“I was coming up to bat just looking for a base hit,” Bennett said. “I got a good pitch and luckily it went out.”

Fordham picked up the win for the Red Elephants. Despite earning a loss, Wright struck out eight in a complete game performance.

“Wright pitched great tonight,” Bennett said. “When neither team is getting a lot of hits, it makes the game go faster and more fun for us.”

Gainesville continues its battle for the region title when they travel to Lumpkin County at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday.

North Hall looks to solidify a playoff spot when the play host to East Hall at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Regional events