Gainesville vs. Ringgold
When: Game 1, 4 p.m. today, Game 2 to follow; If necessary, Game 3, 3 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Ivey-Watson Field
Coaches: Gainesville, Jeremy Kemp; Ringgold, Brent Tucker
Records: Gainesville (31-0, No. 1 Region 8-AAA); Ringgold (27-5, No. 1 Region 7-AAA)
Key players: Gainesville, P/1B David Gonzalez Sr. (11-0, 1.07 ERA); P/OF Michael Gettys So. (11-0, 1.98 ERA); 2B Stephen Mason Sr. (.480 avg., 6 HRs, 37 RBIs). Ringgold, P Corey Kafka Sr.; 1B Adam Weldon Sr.; 2B Slade Dale So.
Skyler Weber likes being under the radar.
Sure, the Gainesville catcher is happy to fill up the stat sheets with a home run or two, as he did in the Red Elephants’ quarterfinals series against Carrollton, but he knows a catcher is doing his job when his name isn’t called.
And that’s just fine with him.
“My team has a lot of talent,” the junior said. “I do my job when I make any of my other guys, any of my pitchers, look good. So if I’m under the radar, that’s a good thing. I get on the radar when something goes wrong.”
That’s been a rare occurrence for the catcher, as well as his team, which opens the Class AAA state semifinals against Ringgold with a doubleheader Monday at Ivey-Watson Field. The Red Elephants remain undefeated on the season, 31-0, the only team in the state with such a mark.
A lot of that success comes down to Weber.
Like his team, Weber has been solid on both offense and defense. At the plate, he is hitting over .400 for the season and above .500 for the state playoffs. Last Tuesday, he knocked two three-run home runs in a doubleheader to help his team sweep Carrollton.
Combining with second baseman Stephen Mason at the top of the order, Weber has helped set the table all year for the run-producers, who, in turn, have had plenty of success driving them in.
“He’s been huge with Stephen at the top of the order,” Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said. “They’re on base all the time, and that creates all kinds of problems for the other team. And he’s getting close to 15 home runs for his career here, so he’s got a lot of pop in the bat too.”
Weber said his approach at the plate is simple.
“I just try to move Stephen over as he gets on,” he said. “I could probably hit for more power if we needed it, but our team has so many different types of players. We know our roles.”
More than what Weber’s done at the plate, his main role for the Red Elephants takes place behind it.
How he controls a game behind the plate, he said, is his best attribute. Kemp said he’d tend to agree.
“Being a catcher is a lot like an offensive lineman in football,” Kemp said. “You don’t always get noticed by everyone else, but the coaches, pitchers and teammates all appreciate his work the most. The pitchers love pitching to him. He’s a complete player. There aren’t many catchers like him around.”
What makes Weber complete, Kemp said, is his understanding of the game. Many catchers at the high school level have the physical attributes, but few are as developed mentally as Weber, he said.
The key is understanding his pitchers — their strengths and weaknesses and their personalities, among other things.
“Skyler treats all of his pitchers differently,” Kemp said. “He knows when to go to the mound and get on to them, and he knows when he needs to encourage them. And he has a good understanding of how his pitchers feel on any given day. He just does a great job with all our pitchers.”
Weber shared his feelings on that skill.
“You’ve got to know which ones you need to calm down,” he said. “We like to work fast, and whenever they’re in a fast rhythm and can’t hit their spots, you’ve got to be able to go out and calm them down.
And he doesn’t have the easiest pitchers to catch, either. Starters David Gonzalez and Michael Gettys are both controlled, but catching fastballs in the low-to-mid 90s like those pitchers throw isn’t easy for anyone.
“It’s a hard job,” Kemp said simply.
Gonzalez praised his catcher’s ability to handle the task.
“I feel like I can throw all my pitches to him,” he said. “I feel like he can block our stuff well if anything gets away, and he always knows the right time to calm us down. It’s a rare quality. I wouldn’t want anyone else back there.”
Weber adds other skills like his speed (he’s the only catcher Kemp has not used courtesy runners for) and ability to throw runners out.
“He shuts down the running game,” Kemp said.
And Weber is constantly improving, too.
“I hit every day in the cage and I’m out there on the field doing catching drills,” he said. “Mostly, the thing is just to try and make my team look good. That’s my job.”
The junior has already verbally committed to play baseball at the University of Georgia when he graduates high school. Gonzalez has signed to play with the Bulldogs, and Gettys, a sophomore, is also committed.
“It feels good to know that all your hard work is paying off like that,” he said. “But that’s two years down the road. I’m focused on what I’m doing right now, and that’s trying to win a state championship. Competition tests your character. That’s what makes the game fun.”
So does winning, and the Red Elephants will try to keep that going when they begin their series today against Ringgold. And despite the perfect record, Weber knows his team’s goal.
“We’re focused on our jobs,” he said. “We’re not concerned with the record. Nothing’s different right now. We’re going into this series without overlooking Ringgold at all. They’re a great team, and they’re in our way — just like Heritage, West Laurens and all the other teams. We have to face them to get to our ultimate goal.”