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Friday May 27th, 2016 6:28AM

Baseball: Gainesville psyched for opportunities, experiences at National Invitational

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
CARY, N.C. -- You could almost feel the excitement pouring out of Sims Griffith.

"We're going to face some of the best pitchers in the country," Griffith said. "I can't wait."

Pitchers, batters, fielders, you name it -- some of the best prep baseball players and teams from around the nation will be on hand this week in the National High School Invitational tournament -- and the Red Elephants will be front and center to test themselves against a stacked field in Cary, N.C.

"It's a tremendous opportunity," Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said. "It's a huge honor to be invited to this. They take the best programs in the nation, and it's awesome that they believe Gainesville baseball is one of those teams. I'm excited and I know the guys are ready for it."

The Red Elephants will need to be at their best right out of the starting gate, facing Venice High School (Fla.) in their opening contest of the tournament at 4:30 p.m. today. The Indians enter the competition ranked No. 2 in Baseball America's high school (national) top 25.

And that's just the first of a four-game slate that Kemp hopes will help his team elevate its play.

"Anytime you're challenged it pushes you to another level, and when we get in playoff situations we have to push to another level," said Kemp, whose Red Elephants will play one contest each day, Wednesday-Saturday. "We've struggled with that a little bit in the past. But that won't be the case this year, not with the schedule we've played this season and with this tournament."

Gainesville will face a number of top Major League Baseball prospects during the course of play, as a number of Baseball America preseason first-team All-Americans take part, including Braxton Davidson (T.C. Roberson), Jacob Gatewood (Clovis), Dylan Cease (Milton) and Touki Toussaint (Coral Springs Christian Academy). Other top draft prospects will include Mac Marshall (Parkview) and Josh Morgan (Orange Lutheran).

Of course Gainesville's own Michael Gettys is also among the spotlight players, though he and his teammates are less worried about star status and more concerned with enjoying the moment.

"It's going to be a great bonding experience for us," Griffith said. "Just to be together for four days on the road and playing some great teams is going to be awesome."

Kemp agreed.

"The best thing right now is that we're going to get away and focus on baseball as a team," Kemp said. "It's going to be great for the kids."

And Kemp hopes there will be plenty of learning experiences along the way that will aid Gainesville when it returns to region play on March 31.

"Seeing these tough pitchers you've got to adjust -- we adjusted to Flowery Branch's great pitcher (Dylan) Gibeau (on Monday in a 4-3 win)," Kemp said. "And that's going to be the way it is in big games. We're going to have to fight and scrap for every run, and that will make us better in the long term."

That prospect, along with the experience was more than enough to outweight any worries about taking Gainesville away from its Region 8-AAAAA routine for the course of two contests (Wednesday and Friday).

"You can't pass up an opportunity like this," Kemp said. "It's tough that it came in the middle of the region schedule, but our kids will regain focus when we get back into region. You just can't pass something like this up."
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