With three state titles in three different sports, it’d be tough to argue that no school had a better year than Buford High. But if you’re looking for a runner-up in the success category, look no further than Gainesville High.
It all started with the Red Elephants’ run to the Class AAA state championship game in football, continued in the winter with yet another berth in the girls basketball playoffs for the Lady Red Elephants, and culminated in the spring, with two championships — one in boys soccer and another in track by senior pole vaulter Paul Malquist — and a run to the quarterfinals by the baseball team.
The success of those programs came as no surprise, that is until you talk about the baseball team.
Thought of to be too young and too inexperienced before the season started, the Red Elephants quickly put those ideas to rest by blowing out the majority of their opponents en route to a 23-game winning streak.
A trio of young pitchers, freshman Hunter Anglin and sophomores Stephen Mason and David Gonzalez answered the inexperience question by constantly shutting down opposing offenses despite having limited innings pitched at the varsity level.
Youth was served not only by that trio, but also by a slew of underclassmen who provided those pitchers with plenty of run support and a solid defense.
While those preseason concerns were swept by the wayside during the regular season, they came back in full swing once the Class AAA playoffs began.
A loss to Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe in the first game of the first round brought about questions dealing with experience and comments on how this Gainesville team was too young to win now.
The Red Elephants responded with back-to-back convincing wins against Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe to advance to the second round for the first time since 2004.
Looking back on it, those concerns in the first round were a bit premature. Of course, the Red Elephants were going to beat Lakeview; they had a better offense, were playing at home and if they got to see your third pitcher, consider the series over.
That certainly was the case in round two against Dunwoody when Gainesville split the first two games and routed the Wildcats in the deciding contest.
But then came the quarterfinals, when youth finally got served.
Traveling to Thomson was a tough task for these Red Elephants. They were coming off back-to-back three-game series while Thomson cruised to the quarterfinals. They were no longer pitching in the comfort of Ivey-Watson Field and were facing a team that had sound and experienced players throughout its lineup.
The result? Consecutive blowouts from Thomson and the end of Gainesville’s season.
“Our inexperience finally showed in that game,” Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said.
But what he didn’t say, is how much that is no longer a factor and the future is extremely bright for the Red Elephants. Only three players, albeit important ones in seniors K.J. McAllister, Sloan Strickland and Anderson Loggins, won’t be around next year.
Anglin, who started the season 9-1 before hitting a rough patch in the playoffs, will undoubtedly follow his phenomenal freshmen year with a sensational sophomore one.
Mason and Gonzalez will be juniors, and their presence on the mound and at the plate will provide Gainesville with the experience it lacked prior to 2010.
And then there’s Will Maddox, who led the team in home runs and RBIs this year as a junior and will more than likely be entrenched in the No. 3 hole for Gainesville for his senior season. After all, that is where you put your best hitter, and next to McAllister, who had a ridiculous .600-plus on base percentage, Maddox was the Red Elephants’ second best offensive weapon.
The rest of Gainesville’s roster will also be better. They’ll have a year under their belts and know what it takes to make and compete in the playoffs; two things that most players can’t say they have.
So while this season might have ended abruptly, everyone take solace knowing that next year will be different.
I can’t say for sure what will happen in football, basketball, soccer or track, but one thing’s for certain, Gainesville will open the 2011 baseball season with everything it needs to compete for a state title.
Jon Zopf is a sports writer for The Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.