GAINESVILLE — Chalk it up to a learning experience.
Last season, Gainesville and Dalton faced off in the state playoffs, where a veteran Red Elephants squad handed the Catamounts a 2-1 series defeat. On Saturday a now-veteran Dalton team took its turn to knock a young Gainesville from the first round of the Class AAAAAA postseason with a 10-1 Game 3 victory at Ivey-Watson Field.
The Catamounts pulled away late, scoring eight runs in the fifth and sixth innings to kill off any hopes of a Red Elephants comeback after Gainesville trailed just 2-1 through four.
"They were the same team as last year, and we went to three games with them then too," said Red Elephants coach Jeremy Kemp, referring to the 2016 quarterfinal series win. "We lost seven-eight seniors off that team; I don't think they lost any seniors. They were a good team then, and they're a better team now.
"But I'm proud of my guys; we let this get away, but we stood toe-to-toe with them for most of the way."
It certainly appeared that a nip-and-tuck finish was on the cards thanks to the pitching of starters A.J. Smallwood for Gainesville and Harrison Hughes for Dalton.
Hughes settled down after a shaky first inning that saw the Red Elephants rack up three hits and one run -- on a Jared Smith RBI double -- yielding just three more hits the rest of the way in a complete game performance.
Meanwhile, Smallwood was similarly strong through 4 innings, yielding one run in the first and another in the third -- the go-ahead was unearned -- and only surrendering three hits.
But Dalton's bats -- a feature of the Catamounts' season -- heated up in fifth, racking up four hits and two runs before tacking on six more runs on four hits in the sixth, as Gainesville turned to its bullpen.
"They're a good hitting team, and it's contagious for them," Kemp said. "When they get going it's hard to stop it.
"They were one pitch away from being a No. 1 seed coming into the playoffs, so they weren't your average No. 3 seed."
Smith, Collier Scott and Cameron Wilson each paced Gainesville at the plate, with Smith finishing up a dominant series. Scott went 2 for 3 on Saturday, including a triple and a run scored while Wilson was 2 for 3.
It was not enough against Hughes -- and the Catamounts' late surge -- however. Dalton catcher J.P. Tighe finished 2 for 3 with two doubles and four RBI, while Harrison Norman went 2 for 4 with a double and two RBI.
Three fielding errors also cost the Red Elephants, leading to four unearned runs.
With the majority of Gainesville's roster made up of underclassmen, Kemp hope this experience will only build for the future.
"Any time you play a series like this it can't help but make you better," Kemp said. "We got a lot of players experience here, and a lot of pitchers too. That can only help us grow."
Gainesville's season is now complete.