GAINESVILLE — Gainesville baseball and playoffs are about as synonymous with one another as having a nose and breathing. You seldom, if ever, have one without the other.
The Red Elephants have made the playoffs 29 of the last 30 seasons, with just the 2005 team, which featured a slew of inexperienced players that followed a pair of state title classes in 2001 and 2002, not advancing to the postseason.
Unfortunately for the Red Elephants, the 2019 season has had that same feel as in 2005 with a roster made up primarily of seniors who did not see much playing time as underclassmen due to a pair of strong senior classes ahead of them.
The Red Elephants (8-14, 3-6 Region 8-6A) entered the season with just three returning starters. Then early in the season, they lost No. 1 starter and junior Zach Valentine for the season.
Now, instead of batting for a possible region title, the current group is fighting for its playoff life and trying to keep a 13-year postseason run alive as well with just two weeks and six games remaining.
However, they staved off elimination on Friday when Eudy Medina capped a three-run seventh inning with a two-run single to give them a 6-5 win over Apalachee.
Red Elephants coach Adam Miller said it has been a trying season for the perennial power but acknowledged that nothing has been decided yet.
“Injuries have been a big issue and just not a lot experience on the field with this group,” he said. “It takes time to get up to the varsity speed if you haven’t played until you’re a senior. But I do feel we’ve made progress.
“That was a big win for us on Friday and hopefully that will give them some confidence they can carry into this week. They have the ability to turn this around; they just need to focus.”
Gainesville opens a basic do-or-die series at Dacula (8-14, 3-6 Region 8-6A) on Monday with both teams part of a four-way tie for third place. The series winner will still be alive. The series loser is likely out of any playoff contention.
However, it is an even bigger series for the Red Elephants, who will close out the regular season against No. 1-ranked and region unbeaten Winder-Barrow next week.
“I don’t think we have to sweep, although that would be nice, but we certainly have to win the series to stay alive,” Miller said. “Dacula is a tough team so we have our work cut out for us. Winder is loaded so we don’t want to have to go into that one having to sweep to stay alive.
“The key for us all year has been our defense and being consistent on the mound. When we play well in the field, we have a chance against anyone. The games we’ve struggled in are the ones where we have kicked the ball around.
“We moved some guys around in the rotation so we’re hoping that will help us as well. Our focus is just on winning this series this week. Then we’ll see what happens. It’s going to be interesting for sure.”