Sloan Strickland was behind an offensive surge that kept the season alive for Gainesville, at least for another day.
Strickland had two home runs and seven RBIs in Game 2 of a first-round playoff series as the Red Elephants (25-2) defeated Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe 16-9 at Ivey-Watson Field on Friday. With the win, the Red Elephants forced the deciding Game 3, which will be played at 4 p.m. today at Ivey-Watson Field.
The Warriors (18-9) won the first game 9-7, snapping Gainesville’s 23-game winning streak.
“I feel confident about our team and our chances,” Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said. “They could have easily laid down after Game 1, but kept battling.
“This is the first time most of the guys on our team have played in the playoffs.”
Trailing 2-1 in the fifth inning of Game 2, Strickland came to the plate with the bases loaded. On a curveball with two strikes in the count, Strickland connected for a grand slam to give the Red Elephants a 5-2 lead, and just as importantly put some life into the team that struggled to hit ball in the first part of the game.
“I hit the ball and just felt a rush,” Strickland said. “The pitch was too close to take so I knew I had to swing.”
Gainesville’s fifth-inning rally started with singles from Daniel Wellborn, Michael Lorentz, a bunt single from Stephen Mason and an RBI single from Will Maddox.
Then in the seventh inning, after narrowly missing a pair of home runs in the first game, Strickland came away with a three-run home run over the right field fence. He finished the day with four hits and eight RBIs.
“Sloan did a great job hitting the ball tonight,” Kemp said.
Not to be outdone, Gainesville shortstop K.J. McAllister had three hits in the second game and four RBIs. In the sixth inning, he cleared the bases with a three-run single, along with an RBI single in the seventh inning.
Before McAllister came to the plate in the seventh inning, Gainesville freshman Hunter Anglin connected on a ground-rule double that managed to land inside a state championship banner on the right field wall. Wellborn added a two-run single for Gainesville during the seven-run seventh.
“Hopefully, the momentum has swung to our side and we’ll be able to finish off the series (today),” McAllister said.
Mason (3-for-4, RBI), Maddox (2-for-4, RBI), Lorentz (3-for-4, three runs scored) and Ryan Griffith (two hits) also hit the ball well for the Red Elephants to tie the series at one game apiece. Gainesville finished the game with 19 hits, 16 of those were singles.
For Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, lead off hitter Justin Walker and Cody Commons each had three hits in Game 2.
In Game 1, the Warriors jumped on the Gainesville pitching for two runs in each of the first two innings. Commons (3-for-5) had an RBI triple in the second inning, followed by an RBI double from Matt Osbourn.
Then in the sixth and trailing 6-5, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe took the lead with a two-run single from Levi Scudgins and a two-run single by pinch hitter Matt Culberson.
Griffith had a two-run double for the Red Elephants in the first inning. Maddox, McAllister, Strickland and Anglin each drove in one run in the series opener.
Scudgins (3-for-4, three RBIs), Walker (2-for-4, RBI) and Daniel Deocampo (2-for-3, three runs) lead the Warriors at the plate in Game 1. Walker drove across the go-ahead run in the fifth inning with a two-out single to score Deocampo, who reached base on a bunt single.
The winner of today’s game moves on to face the Dunwoody/Hart County winner in the second round.