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Mitchell: Unbeaten Red Elephants must maintain focus
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It was my senior year of high school at Starr’s Mill in Fayetteville, and my school’s baseball team was 28-0 and ranked No. 2 in the nation by Baseball America.

I say “my school’s team,” of course, because I was sitting outside the fence covering games for the school newspaper. Apparently, they don’t let kids who can’t hit a lick or run faster than an overweight snail on the team.

The players who were allowed on the field, however, had put together one of the most impressive seasons I had ever seen. Of their 28 wins, eight were shutouts, and they scored in double digits 13 times.

It was a foregone conclusion that the team would be hoisting the state trophy at the end of the year.

But then the unthinkable happened.

In just the second round of the state playoffs, Starr’s Mill ran into Tift County, which held it to a total of 11 runs in three games and, ultimately, pulled off the stunning upset.

A look of shock mingled with the tears on each player’s face.

I use this story as a tale of caution, because we have a team right here in Hall County that is off to an equally impressive start.

Gainesville (15-0, 10-0 Region 8-AAA South) has put together a great run, scoring 10 or more runs in nine of its 15 wins and recording six shutouts.

Looking ahead on the schedule, it’s very possible the Red Elephants could make it through their regular season with a spotless record. There are only two other teams in the state that can share that possibility (Crisp County, Appling County).

Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp has already cautioned against getting too wrapped up in that possibility, however.

“That’d be a neat goal,” he said Sunday. “But that wasn’t something we wanted to accomplish. We want to win our side first, then try to win the region. We want to give ourselves home-field advantage, and we’ve still got a long way to go.”

It’s good to have that attitude, because, as Kemp also correctly pointed out, records and rankings mean very little when comparing them with teams from around the state.

The level of competition one team plays may not match the level of another. Columbus High, for example, has been ranked No. 1 in Class AAA all season. It recently left the ranks of the unbeaten, however, when it lost to Orange (Calif.) Lutheran, the No. 6-ranked team in the country, according to Baseball America.

Is Gainesville suddenly a better team now that Columbus has lost, albeit against an incredibly strong opponent?

Perhaps, but none of that can be decided until the teams meet in the state playoffs.

“Once you get to the playoffs, everyone is zero and zero,” Kemp said. “All it takes is two losses to be sent home.

All that matters is how you play then and who gets hot.

“We have a goal, and we don’t get too caught up with what other people are thinking.”

It’s a smart attitude for the Red Elephants coach.

Wins in the regular season are nice, and I can imagine the lofty ranking is equally gratifying.

But these players and coaches know what they want. And that doesn’t include caps pulled low over their faces to hide the disappointment of an early-round upset in the playoffs.

David Mitchell is a sportswriter for The Times. Contact him at