Second round games
Gainesville vs. Evans, 4 p.m.
Buford vs. Perry, 4 p.m.
North Hall vs. Upson-Lee, 4:30 p.m.
Jefferson at Pierce County, 5 p.m.
Jackson County at Jackson, 4:30 p.m.
Anyone who has seen seventh-ranked Gainesville’s baseball program this season knows it’s an offense loaded with power in the middle of the order.
First baseman Caleb Whitenton, a senior, leads the Red Elephants (22-5) with 15 homers, while junior left-handed pitcher/designated hitter Jonathan Gettys has put 12 over the fence.
In the Red Elephants’ first round series against Cambridge, it was more than just two players who made a two-game sweep possible.
Hitting in the No. 9 hole, Drew Wright was one player who stepped up to keep the season going into the second round of the Class AAAAA state tournament Wednesday against Evans (19-8) at Ivey-Watson Field. Wright had three hits in the doubleheader and managed to steal a pair of bases against Cambridge, even after he pulled a hamstring running to first on an infield single.
The guys hitting near the bottom of the order are going to be counted on more and more during the postseason as the margin for error dwindles for remaining schools, including Gainesville in Class AAAAA, North Hall and Buford in Class AAAA, and Jackson County and Jefferson in Class AAA.
“If we get the guys at the bottom of our order on (base), we’re pretty good,” Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said.
Gainesville is playing in the second round of the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, according to Kemp.
Freshman infielder Banks Griffith, the No. 8 hitter, was also big for the Red Elephants, putting together a couple hits in the first round series and setting the table for the top of the order to drive in runs.
The programs fortunate enough to advance beyond the opening round of the postseason often did so behind key plays from unsung heroes.
For North Hall (19-8), it came with a big hit at the plate and a collaborative effort in relief to sweep past Pickens. Junior catcher Fowler Brooks had the most memorable moment with his three-run home run, the first homer of his high school career, according to Trojans coach Trent Mongero.
North Hall was trailing 2-0 in Game 2 before Fowler’s go-ahead homer.
“The guys were all going nuts when he hit that home run,” said Mongero. “It was a blast, a moon shot.”
With the lead in hand, it was senior lefty Lincoln Hewett, who primarily plays left field, and Drew Atha to combine in relief to get out with an 8-3 victory. Hewett, who never pitched before on varsity before 2015, came in with one out in the third inning. After he experienced problems cramping, he gave way to junior Drew Atha to close it out.
Senior Drew Coker has also been a staple in North Hall’s hitting order, after being replaced by a designated hitter heavily late in 2014.
Mongero said those at bats by everyone, especially at the bottom of the order, are critical as the postseason stretch continues.
“Those at-bats are irreplaceable,” said Mongero, who has guided North Hall to three straight second-round appearances. “It’s absolutely huge when those guys get on base.”
For No. 1 Buford (26-2), coach Tony Wolfe knows everyone the team faces down the stretch will be doing their best on to pitch away from his leading batters: No. 3 hitter Joey Bart (.456 average, 22 RBIs) and cleanup hitter Nick Wilhite (.345 avg., 29 RBIs).
In the first round of the postseason, Bart, a Georgia Tech signee drew three walks. However, the two guys hitting after Wilhite had excellent outings Heritage-Catoosa in the first round of state. Hitting No. 5, Griffin Jolliff had a pair of hits, three runs scored and a sacrifice fly, followed by Caleb Moore (triple, three RBIs) in the sixth spot of the hitting order.
“We know everyone is going to try and pitch around our top guys, so it’s really valuable to get the guys toward the bottom of the order on base,” said Wolfe.