Gainesville’s Wayne Vickery didn’t have the words to console his team.
The veteran coach has seen good times and bad in his tenure with the Red Elephants and that experience told him there was nothing he could say after Gainesville’s rally fell one run short on Saturday.
The 8-7 loss to Westminster in Game 3 of a first-round Class AAA playoff series ended the careers of 10 Gainesville seniors and Vickery knew they were hurting.
"I told them there was nothing I was going to say that was going to make them feel any better," Vickery said. "(I told them) ‘when you were down 7-1 you could have just thrown it in,’ but I thought we gave ourselves chance to win there in the sixth and I thought we gave ourselves another chance to win in the seventh."
But in the end the Red Elephants couldn’t push the tying run across and for the third straight year Gainesville’s season ended in the first round of the playoffs.
Westminster (20-5) took control of the game early with a five-run first inning, sparked by a Jay Lively grand slam, and led 7-1 after two innings.
Slowly, though, Gainesville (21-7) chipped away at the lead.
Adam Parker drove in Justin Fordham with a sacrifice fly in the third inning and Robby Hefflinger drove in Blain Martin in the fourth with a blistering double down the left-field line.
But the Red Elephants’ best chance came in the sixth.
Max Joseph, who kept Westminster’s offense under control pitching in relief of Fordham, led off the inning with a double. Zach Thelman followed suit with a rip off the left-field fence and after Blaine Martin was hit by a pitch Fordham doubled to drive in Thelman, pulling Gainesville within three runs of the lead.
Again it was Hefflinger coming through with a big hit, this time a high chopper over the first baseman’s head that scored Martin and Fordham, leaving the score 8-7.
But that’s where the rally died.
Zach Bennett was hit by a pitch and pinch runner Lorenzo Jerome stole third with no outs but never advanced home.
"I thought the key part of the inning was when we had a runner on third with nobody out and we can’t put the ball in play," Vickery said. "If you can’t put the ball in play you can’t win. But let’s give (Westminster) credit. They made one error in three games and the errors we made today were very costly."
Westminster scored its eighth and final run on an error with two outs in the bottom of the fourth.
Clay Gibson led Westminster, going 2-for-3 with a solo home run in the second inning. Ross Conway and Joseph Whithrow each went 2-for-4 and J.D. DeYonker earned the win in three innings of relief work before Jake Taylor entered to preserve the win.
Hefflinger led Gainesville, going 2-for-2 with 3 RBIs.