Cale Conley saw a fastball high and inside. Collier Scott waited on a curveball low in the zone.
Both pitches ended up in the same place — over the left-center field wall at Ivey Watson Field.
Home runs by Conley and Scott in blustery conditions propelled the Gainesville High baseball team to a 9-4 win against Habersham Central on Friday, March 30, in Gainesville. The seniors’ big swings helped their squad secure a three-game series sweep in Region 8-6A play.
“We’ve got some guys with power,” Red Elephants coach Jeremy Kemp said. “It was the first home run of the season for both of them, and they both got ahold of one hitting into the wind. But I’m not surprised; they’ve both got a lot of power and have been hitting the ball well for us.”
Still, Kemp said Gainesville (13-6, 4-2 region) isn’t quite where it needs to be in terms of hitting throughout the lineup.
Senior center fielder Cameron Wilson (two singles, two runs scored) was the only player to record multiple hits, and the Red Elephants scored in only two innings while posting just one more hit than the Raiders (10-7, 2-4).
But Gainesville made those scoring opportunities count. Conley’s two-run home run punctuated the team’s six-run third inning, while Scott’s homer drove in all three runs in the sixth.
“We’re capable of having big innings like that, even though we sometimes put some zeroes up (on the scoreboard) throughout the game,” Scott said. “We need to do that earlier in the game so we can take teams out of the game.”
Noah Bond gave his offense time to figure things out, retiring all but one of the first 11 batters he faced. The senior pitcher surrendered just three hits over four innings, though Habersham Central scored its first run of the series on a wild pitch after stringing together a double and single in the top of the fourth.
But the Red Elephants already held a huge lead at that point, having scored six runs on five hits in the previous frame. Wilson and senior shortstop Banks Griffith led off the bottom of the third with back-to-back singles before a somewhat controversial call occurred along the basepaths.
Raiders’ pitcher Dalton Munroe caught Wilson trying to steal, creating a rundown that ended with Wilson tagged out at third base.
Yet officials ruled an infielder obstructed Wilson’s path, Kemp said, thereby making him safe at third base and setting the stage for the huge inning.
Wilson stole home as Habersham Central attempted to catch Griffith stealing second base, senior right fielder Charlie Wall smacked an RBI single down the third-base line and sophomore left fielder Jackson Kemp barreled a two-RBI double in nearly the same spot.
Conley, of course, rounded out the scoring with his home run.
Following two innings of shutout relief pitching from left-hander Adam Benefield, who gave up one hit and struck out three batters, Scott drove in sophomore pinch runner Grady Vardeman and Wilson on a ball that cleared the wall by several feet.
“It feels like everything is starting to work out for us,” Scott said after Gainesville’s fourth-straight win. “The pitching and the hitting is coming around, and we’re playing good defense. We feel like we’re about to take off.”
The game ended on a bit of a sour note as the Raiders tacked on three runs in the top of the seventh inning. A throwing error and passed ball allowed the first two runners to come home before leadoff hitter and center fielder Jarred Jones hit a home run of his own.
It still didn’t put a damper on the sweep for the Red Elephants, who look like a fearsome squad at the plate heading into their three-game region series against Lanier, which begins at 5:55 p.m. Monday in Sugar Hill.
Gainesville’s display of big hitting Friday was a fitting end to a series in which it scored 29 total runs. The Red Elephants won the opener 8-0 and breezed to a 12-0, five-inning victory in Game 2, an offensive onslaught Jeremy Kemp attributed to his players’ commitment to finding a way on base and moving runners over by any means necessary.
“We’ve been getting more baserunners lately, and our coaches always tell us to just keep getting them over,” Conley said. “They tell us putting a ball in play with a ground ball is better than a fly-ball out.”
What about a fly ball that clears the outfield wall?
“That works, too,” Conley said with a chuckle.