With six games left to play in the regular season, the No. 2-ranked Gainesville Red Elephants got a taste of postseason baseball Friday at Ivey-Watson Field.
Opposed by a West Forsyth team fighting for its playoff lives, the Red Elephants scored four runs in the first three innings and staved off a late rally by the Wolverines to hold on to a 4-2 win. Gainesville has now won 16 straight games.
“That was too close,” said Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp, whose team had won its five of its last six by 10 runs or more. “We played good defense, but had we made a couple of plays that we normally make, it might not have been as close.”
The Red Elephants (18-1, 13-0 Region 7-AAA) needed to play solid defense because unlike in their previous games, the offense was stifled.
That was in large part due to the pitching of sophomore Blake Burkett, who gave up three earned runs and struck out five in 5 1/3 innings.
“He kept us in it,” West Forsyth coach Byron Orr said. “He got some big outs when we needed it.”
Unfortunately for Burkett, he was pitching against Gainesville freshman Hunter Anglin, who threw a complete game with five strikeouts and improved his record to 8-0.
“Hunter battled all day,” Kemp said. “He was drilled on the right elbow at the plate and wouldn’t come out. He’s a real competitor.”
Anglin got some help from his defense in the second inning when K.J. McAllister made a diving stop on a ball hit up the middle and flipped the ball to Will Maddox for a 6-4-3 double play.
While that play was impressive, McAllister’s best play of the night came in the bottom of the third when he battled through a nine-pitch at bat to slap a double down the right field line and give the Red Elephants runners on second and third with one out with cleanup hitter Sloan Strickland coming up to bat.
The Wolverines (11-9, 9-5) appeared to limit the damage when Burkett induced a sacrifice fly from Strickland. But McAllister never stopped running from second and scored behind Maddox (1-for-3), just in front of the throw from the relay man.
“It all happened because K.J. was hustling,” Kemp said. “He was thinking the same thing I was, and because West Forsyth didn’t get the ball in quickly, he was able to score.”
McAllister, who finished the game 2-for-2 with two runs scored, also keyed Gainesville’s first run when he stole two bases and scored on an errant throw to third. The senior shortstop stole his 26th base of the year in the fifth inning, setting a new single-season school record. The previous record was 25 by Randi Mallard in 1993.
Gainesville’s four-run lead lasted until the fifth inning when West Forsyth’s Brodie Orr led off the inning with a solo home run to right-center field.
The Wolverines added another run in the seventh on an RBI single from Tommy Ferguson, who advanced to second when the ball got by Gainesville left fielder Anderson Loggins, who went 2-for-3 with an RBI in the second inning.
Loggins made up for the miscue by throwing out Ferguson when he tried to score from second on a single by Will Canady.
“(Loggins) just made a great play,” Orr said of how the game ended. “We needed to score and I’d make that same decision again.”
Despite the outcome, Orr thinks that his team is prepared to close out the season strong.
“We went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the state,” he said. “We still have a chance, and we’re going to do everything we can to win these final five region games.”
West Forsyth plays host to Johns Creek at noon today before finishing out the region schedule that starts with a game at Chestatee at 5:55 p.m. Wednesday.
Gainesville visits East Hall at 5:55 p.m. Monday.