GAINESVILLE — Jared Smith displayed the kind of down-but-never-out attitude the current Gainesville baseball team is becoming known for.
The junior catcher took a brutal foul tip off his neck in the bottom of the first in the second game of the Red Elephants’ best-of-three Class AAAAAA series with Dalton at Ivey-Watson Field. It literally knocked him to his knees. But after taking a moment, he waved the trainers off the field and stayed in the game.
Less than five minutes later in the top of the second he cranked a long two-run home run to cap a three-run inning and help keep Gainesville’s season alive for one more day at least with a 9-2 victory to even the series at 1-1. Dalton opened the series with a dominant 10-3 victory in Game 1
“This team has a lot of grit,” said Smith, who had four straight hits between the two games with a pair of doubles, the home run, four RBI, and also scored three runs. “We never quit. We struggled that first game. We knew we needed to come back out and get something going.”
The two teams now will meet at high noon Saturday at Ivey-Watson for the deciding Game 3 with the winner moving on to the second round. The winner also will travel to Brunswick to take on Region 2-AAAAAA champion Glynn Academy, which swept Mt. Zion-Jonesboro on Friday.
Big innings were the key in both games for both teams. Dalton (21-8) used a pair of four-run innings in Game 1 to erase an early 1-0 Gainesville lead and eventually led 10-1 before the Red Elephants (22-8) scored a pair of late runs.
Gainesville opened Game 2 with a four-run first and then a three-run second to take control and hold off two late Catamounts rallies.
Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said he was impressed with how his group kept its composure.
“We got punched right in the nose in that first game but we did a great job of coming back in the second game,” Kemp said. “The early runs were huge for us.”
Game 1: Dalton 10, Gainesville 3
The Gainesville offense jumped on Dalton starter Cole Shelton quickly as Banks Griffith doubled off the centerfield wall and Cameron Wilson followed with a perfect bunt single to put runners at corners with no outs. After a strikeout of Collier Scott, Smith brought in Griffith on a sacrifice fly for a 1-0 advantage. That would be their only lead.
The Catamounts answered right back in the top of the second taking advantage of two Gainesville errors to tie the game. They could have had more but hit into a double play when a runner at first was caught off base on a fly ball to right to end the inning.
Dalton took the lead for good in the third getting a single, a walk, a third Gainesville error, and a two-run single by Shelton for a 4-1 lead with no outs. Sam Stepp added a RBI single with two outs to push it to 5-1 by the end of the inning. The Catamounts were a blistering 4-for-7 with RISP in the inning. The would go 10-for-24 with RISP with eight RBI for the game.
Scott started and went three innings surrendering five runs, just three earned, on seven hits while striking out three and Noah Bond came on to start the fourth for the Red Elephants. But he couldn’t get out of the inning.
Dalton continued to assault Red Elephants pitching in the fourth. The Catamounts batted around against Bond with four hits, a fourth Gainesville error, and plated four more for a 9-1 lead. Adam Benefield came on in relief of Bond with two out and the bases loaded and struck out Maddux Houghton to get out of the inning.
The Catamounts added a run in the sixth but the Gainesville offense finally put something together scoring a pair runs in the bottom of the sixth on RBI hits by Scott and AJ Smallwood to cut the lead to 10-3.
While the offense was pounding out 16 hits, Shelton went the distance scattering nine hits and striking out 10 to get the win for Dalton.
Benefield pitched well in relief for the Red Elephants going 3 1/3 innings yielding five hits and just one run while fanning four.
Game 2: Gainesville 9, Dalton 2
The Red Elephants again started fast jumping on Dalton starter Harrison Norman in the first, but this time they took advantage of an error, a walk, and then got consecutive RBI doubles from Smith and Charlie Wall for a quick 4-0 lead without an out being recorded. But they could not add on as two base running mistakes cost them potential runs.
The Catamounts scored one in the bottom of the first on a walk, a double, and a RBI groundout by Tighe.
Gainesville answered back in the second with three more runs highlighted by Smith’s towering home run over the batting cage in left field for a 7-1 lead.
Dalton reliever Justin Ketchum settled things down retiring seven straight Red Elephants, including six strikeouts, through the fourth. He gave up a pair of doubles and two runs in the fifth, however, as Gainesville extended the lead to 9-1. He struck out eight in his 3 1/3 innings of work.
Meanwhile, Gainesville starter Kyle York, starting with Tighe’s RBI groundout in the first, retired 11 of the next 14 Catamounts into the fifth inning. He ran into trouble in the fifth as the Catamounts loaded the bases on a double and two walks with two out. But York got out of the jam when he struck out Tighe.
The Catamounts came into the series hitting .348 as a team and surely saw that average ramp up even more after they battered three Gainesville pitchers for 16 hits in the first game. York, however, found a way to cool off the Catamounts going five innings yielding just one run on three hits.
“Kyle did a great job,” kemp said. “He had to skip his last start of the season so to come out and give us that kind of effort was outstanding. That is a great hitting team.”
Jay Hinshaw came on in the sixth for the Red Elephants and kept the Catamounts at bay allowing just one run on two hits and striking out four, including Norman to end the game and send the series to Saturday.