GAINESVILLE, Ga. - Before any member of the Swainsboro or Gainesville baseball teams was born, the Cincinnati Reds dominated the major leagues in the mid-1970s.
Those teams, nicknamed the "Big Red Machine," are considered some of the greatest in professional baseball history.
Prep power Gainesville drew comparisons to the Reds on Saturday afternoon in the Class AAA state finals at Ivey-Watson Field. The Red Elephants easily swept Swainsboro, 10-0 and 11-0, in a pair of five-inning games.
The top-ranked Elephants smashed three homers, including two from Micah Owings in the fifth inning of Game 2. After securing the school's fourth state championship in six seasons, members of the Gainesville team took a dip in a stream that feeds into Lake Lanier.
Gainesville's 34-1 record marks the best in school history. The team ended the season with a 24-game winning streak and swept all five of its opponents in the state playoffs.
The Red Elephants whipped Swainsboro with an offensive show of power and stingy pitching. The Tigers managed just five hits in the doubleheader. When Swainsboro did put the bat on the ball, Gainesville's defense was flawless.
"We didn't put any pressure on them to see if they had any weak spots," said Swainsboro's senior second baseman, Nate Smith. "But I really don't think they had any. They've got nine great players in their lineup, and that Micah Owings can practically take over."
On the mound in Game 2, Owings faced just one batter more than the minimum, but his bat provided the biggest blow of the series. With the Red Elephants holding a commanding 7-0 lead and the bases loaded, Owings ripped the first pitch he saw from Ashley Hooks an estimated 400 feet over the right-field fence, just a few feet from Lake Lanier.
The junior, who transferred from Forsyth Central this season, is listed as the state's top junior prospect by Baseball America magazine. He led the state in homers with 22 last year.
Owings' grand slam sealed the series for the Red Elephants, but Swainsboro players blamed themselves for the sweep.
"We didn't put the ball in play, and you can't win if you don't hit," said senior left-hander Paul Terwilliger, who took the loss in Game 2.
"Base running is one of the keys, and we didn't get anybody on base. Without somebody on base, you can't produce runs."
As lopsided as the final scores were, the Tigers showed promise in the beginning. With two outs in the first inning of Game 1, catcher Rhett Womack smashed a single, before Raymond Alford followed with a double to left field.
As Womack rounded third and headed for home, Gainesville left fielder Nathan O'Hanlon fired the ball to Owings at third. Owings rifled a shot to catcher Steven Cornett to nail Womack at the plate and end the inning.
At the time, the play didn't seem like a big deal, but that was as close as Swainsboro came to scoring all day.
"I think that had a lot to do with the game," Alford said. "We had Nate Smith, a good stick, coming up behind me, and maybe we should have held up at third. But that's baseball."
The Tigers (27-11), who had become known for rebounding after losing the first game of a playoff series, had no such luck Saturday.
In Game 2, Gainesville took a 2-0 lead in the second inning and kept it until the team sent 13 batters to the plate in the fifth and scored nine runs.
"We never at all were able to get in the game," Swainsboro coach Hank Aldridge said. "Good pitchers usually control good hitters, and we never got a chance to manufacture runs."
The three times Swainsboro got on base in Game 2, the Tigers were thrown out attempting to steal second and twice hit into double plays.
"Gainesville has a lot of good starters, and there's no such thing as the bottom of the lineup (on their team)," said Terwilliger, one of the team's eight seniors.
"But somebody has got to win, and somebody has got to lose. We were one of the final two teams left playing, and nobody expected us to be here."
Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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