GAINESVILLE -- The first two games of the Class AAAAA semifinal series Monday between Gainesville and Houston County was everything both coaches expected.
Now, the question is, what can they expect Tuesday in a deciding Game 3 when everything matters as they try to advance to the state championship series.
Houston County won Game 1, 6-2, with a late flurry against Michael Gettys while the Elephants took Game 2, 13-7, scoring in all but one inning at Ivey-Watson Field.
Game 3 is set for 5 p.m. Tuesday at Ivey-Watson. Gainesville won a coin-flip after the doubleheader and will be the home team.
"We knew it was going to be a tough series and we got what we expected," Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said. "(Houston County) can flat hit the ball."
Houston County coach Jason Brett said his group was not down after letting a chance to sweep on the road slip through their fingers. The Bears led 7-5 after the fourth inning in Game 2.
"The guys are fine. They've been in situations like this before. You always like a chance to finish things off but we'll come back tomorrow and give it all we have," Brett said.
Neither team had faced elimination so far in the playoffs with both rolling through the first three rounds with three sweeps. Gainesville found out it can prosper under the pressure.
"I thought we handled it well," Kemp said. "We got punched in the mouth and got up and fought back. Now, we'll see if (Houston County) can handle it."
The stars for both teams showed up to play Monday. The Bears' Blake Jackson, a Georgia Tech signee, made three outstanding defensive plays to stop potential Gainesville rallies in Game 1 and had five hits, including a home run, to go with three RBI and scored three runs. Hunt Smith (Ga. Southwestern, OF) had four hits and five RBI, including two home runs, in the series.
Gainesville's Michael Gettys (Georgia, OF) struggled at the plate with no hits or RBI, but he scored three runs and an electrifying defensive play in Game 2 snuffed out a Houston County run and ignited an Elephants rally in Game 2.
"That was an amazing play and that did kind of get the team going," Kemp said.
Sims Griffith, a Furman signee, had four hits and pitched 5 2/3 innings in relief allowing two runs to get the win in Game 2 and keep the Elephants alive. He also took a ball off the helmet with the bases loaded to drive in the tying run at the time.
"That sums up Sims in one action," Kemp said. "He'll do anything to win. He was outstanding today in all phases. I thought (Michael) Curry had a great day. It was a team effort."
Both coaches were either unwilling to divulge, or still considering a game plan for Game 3. The Bears (26-6) used four pitchers in the doubleheader while Gainesville used three.
The Elephants (27-7) still have Caleb Whitenton, who won two postseason games in the first two rounds, and Chandler Newton, who won Game 2 in the third round against Starr's Mill in his first action in over a month.
"We feel good with either one but we also have two or three others that can go if we need them. We'll be fine on the mound. We just need to figure out how to stop their offense," Kemp said.
"We still have about five guys who have gotten a bunch of innings this year so I'm not worried about the pitching," Brett said. "We just need to come out and find a way to get one more win."
Game 1: Houston County 6, Gainesville 2
Jordan McIlwain became the first lefty to beat the Elephants in the playoffs. Gainesville was 6-0 against southpaw starters in the playoffs.
After a shaky first inning McIlwain allowed just two hits the rest of the way and held the Elephants' Gettys hitless for the first time in the playoffs. McIlwain fanned seven and walked just one and his defense made three stellar plays in the field to keep Gainesville off the bases.
Gainesville did not steal a base in the game and Griffith was thrown out in the third by strong-armed catcher Jeremiah Stephens in the third on the Elephants only attempt.
It started well for Gainesville. Gettys was dominant early striking out the side in the first two innings. The Gainesville offense went to work in the first.
Griffith led off with a bunt single but two straight fielder's choice outs brought Curry to the plate with two out. The junior catcher responded with a towering two-run home run to give the Elephants a 2-0 lead after one inning.
After the Curry home run McIlwain settled down retiring 12 of the next 15 batters through the fifth inning.
The Bears had a golden opportunity to get to Gettys in the fourth. Josh Profit and Jackson started the inning with back-to-back singles. Gettys would strike out Smith and Phillips but an error on Griffith loaded the bases with two out. Gettys, however, fanned Jake Fromm, his 11th through the first four innings, to get out of the jam unscathed.
Gainesville got two runners on in the bottom of the fourth on a walk to Curry and Brandon Sewell getting hit by a pitch. But McIlwain got Drew Satterfield to ground out to the pitcher to end the inning.
The Bears finally got to Gettys in the sixth. Profit doubled to right to start the inning and then Jackson homered to dead center to tie the game 2-2 with no one out in the inning. Houston County would get one more baserunner with two outs but could not push across the go-ahead run as Gettys fanned Fromm for a third time to end the inning.
Gainesville tried to answer in the bottom of the sixth when Maddox doubled to lead off the inning. Gettys moved Maddox to third with a ground out but McIlwain got Curry to pop up and struck out Whitenton to to get out of the jam.
The Bears took the lead with a four-run seventh when Gettys walked the bases loaded with one out. Jackson drove in Mark Lumsden with a single to center but Sewell gunned down Justin Jones at the plate for the second out to keep it 3-2 for the moment. Gettys would not finish the inning, however, as Hunt Smith cranked a three-run home run to center for a 6-2 lead.
Gainesville went down in order in the seventh as McIlwain finished off the complete game with two strikeouts.
Gettys finished with 13 strikeouts but only had two over the final three innings when the Bears were able to finally get to the hard-throwing righthander.
Game 2: Gainesville 13, Houston County 7
Gainesville again got a quick start in the first. Griffith singled to lead off and then scored after moving to second on a ground out by Maddox and two wild pitches for a 1-0 lead.
Gettys kept things going with a walk and Curry followed with a line shot to center. Whitenton was robbed of a double on a diving catch by Profit in left but Sewell followed with an infield hit and Gettys and Curry would come around to score on the play on a bad throw by the shortstop to make it a 3-0 lead. Phillips got out of the inning with no further damage, however.
The Bears answered with a run in the bottom of the first when Profit singled and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Phillips. Houston County took the lead in the second on a pair of two-run home runs, one by DH Lumsden in the No. 9 spot, and the second by Profit, for a 5-3 lead.
Profit through the first nine innings of the series had four hits, scored four runs, and added two RBI. His blast chased Curry after 1 1/3 innings to be relieved by Griffith.
Gainesville had chances to tie or retake the lead early but left three runners stranded through the first three innings. The Elephants did trim the lead to 5-4 in the third on a solo home run by Curry.
Griffith got out of a jam in the bottom of the third with runners at the corners with one out by fanning Lumsden and Jones to get out of the inning. The Bears had chances to blow the game open but stranded six through the first three innings.
The Elephants tied the game in the fourth on a RBI groundout by Maddox scoring Mikey Gonzalez, who singled and went to second on a throwing error to start the inning. But Gainesville left the go-ahead run at third.
But again the Bears answered. Smith would belt his second home run of the series, a two-run blast in the bottom of the fourth for a 7-5 Houston County lead.
It was all Gainesville after that.
The Elephants retook the lead 8-7 in the top of the fifth with three runs, taking advantage of two walks and a hit batter with the bases loaded. Gonzalez also had a RBI single in the inning.
The Bears looked poised to tie the game in the bottom of the inning but Gettys and Satterfield teamed up for a tremendous double play to end the inning. Gettys caught a fly ball in center for the second out and then gunned it to Satterfield, who leaped high in the air to snag the throw and tag the runner on the helmet just before he crossed the plate.
Gettys got things going in the top of the sixth with a leadoff walk, stole second, and then scored on Brandon Sewell's long two-out, two-run home run to left for a 10-7 lead. The Elephants added three more in the seventh on RBI hits by Curry and Whitenton for a 13-7 lead.
Griffith worked around a walk and an error in the bottom of the seventh and struck out Jackson to end the game and send the series to a deciding third game.