Not since it won the second of back-to-back state titles four years ago had Cartersville survived this long in the postseason.
“It feels great …,” said Canes coach Stuart Chester, whose team defeated the Indians 8-2 in the opener before rallying from three runs down to also win the nightcap of the doubleheader, 5-4.
Jojo Underwood’s game-winner — a two-run, walkoff single to left field — paved the way for a celebration the program has not experienced in some years.
“… To get to [be one of the] last four [teams] standing, now we can say [that if] we win the next series we play for the state championship,” Chester continued. “These guys have watched our guys win state championships and now is their chance to, hopefully, live it.”
Yep, after a nearly four-year drought, Cartersville may yet be playing for another championship. Dodge County almost put those plans on hold, though.
The Indians were three outs away from forcing a decisive third game, but the Canes — playing as the home team — showed they still had life left.
“They kept saying, the whole time, even when it was 4-1, ‘We’re the home team’ … so they knew we were gonna get one last shot at it, and it paid off,” Chester said.
“You gotta tip your hat to [No.] 28. He came up with a big hit for ’em,” Dodge County coach Jared Allen said. “[It] just did get over our shortstop. Once it got out there, you know, that’s a tough play for a left fielder to come up just screaming with a good runner [pinch runner Mark Quattlebaum] at second base … He did a good job of getting home quick. [It was] just tough luck.”
The Indians conclude their season with a 19-11 record, and Allen noted he could not be more proud of them for displaying greater effort in Game 2 of the series.
As for Cartersville (24-7), it awaits the winner of the St. Pius-Pike County series. Chester said St. Pius won the first game, but he was not sure who claimed the second game. Should St. Pius prevail, the Canes would play host, while a Pike County series win would place the Canes back on the road.
In any event, Cartersville returns to the baseball diamond for the start of a best-of-three series.
Game 2: Canes 5, Dodge County 4
Cartersville’s Tripp Jamieson spent much of Wednesday’s nightcap keeping his team in the game, first with a home run early in the game and later in the final inning with a hit to pull his team within striking distance.
However, Jamieson could merely set the table for his teammates down the lineup, and those hitters came through in a major way to finally help the Canes break through the Elite Eight, where their season had ended the last three postseasons — twice at the hands archrival Columbus, which is now in Class AAAA.
Rather than leave things to chance with a Game 3 the following day, Cartersville stunned the Dodge County crowd with its come-from-behind win.
Following Jamieson’s RBI double to left, which scored Garrett Rutledge, the Canes had runners in scoring position with one out as Jamieson — replaced by Quattlebaum shortly after — and Connor Justus stood on second and third base, respectively.
The Indians opted to intentionally walk Austin Adams to load the bases and bring up Underwood.
Allen, Dodge County’s coach, acknowledged that his team decided against pitching to Adams, who had three hits in both games. Underwood only had one hit at the time.
It was a gamble that did not pay for Allen and the Indians, who themselves overcame a deficit.
Dodge County fell behind 1-0 in the bottom of the first after Jamieson connected for a scoreboard-clearing homer to left.
The Indians, however, responded with three runs in the third inning as Austin Clements sliced an RBI double to right for the game-tying run. An errant throw by Cartersville allowed Dodge County’s second run to come in, and the hosts solidified that lead when third baseman Jordan Smith slapped a run-scoring single to left for a 3-1 advantage.
Clements provided his team with what appeared to be an insurance run, driving in another run with a bloop single to shallow right in the fourth.
Jamieson, a senior, would not let his team be denied, though, bringing around Beau Benefield — who led off the fifth with a double — by stroking a ground-rule double to right. It amounted to the only run the Canes scored before their explosion in the seventh, but it allowed them to keep contact with the Indians and prevented the game from slipping away.
When Rutledge hit an infield single to start the seventh — pulling the Dodge County second baseman away from first — and Justus followed by reaching on an error, the Indians had a decision to make.
They decided to pitch to Jamieson. The rest may go down in Cartersville history.
“I wouldn’t have [pitched to him],” Chester said of Dodge County’s decision to throw to Jamieson, who finished 3 for 4 with three RBIs, two doubles and a homer. “He’s clutch. Of course, they struck him out [one at bat] … and he’d struggled a couple of times [on the day]. You just gotta go with your gut as a coach and sometimes it works …”
Like Chester’s decision to bring in Quattlebaum, which effectively ended Jamieson’s day.
“We’d burned Jamieson because we’d already ran for him once,” Chester explained. “I knew with Mark coming in we’d better win it. … We [already] decided if it’s a base hit, they’re just gonna have to throw us out at the plate.”
The throw was wide, and Quattlebaum’s slide sent Cartersville into a massive group hug – and into the next round.
Hunter Osborn earned the win for the Canes, pitching two innings, striking out one and walking one while yielding no hits and no runs. Rutledge started and pitched the first five innings, giving up three earned runs on seven hits and four walks (one hit batter) and striking out six.
Aron Chick took the loss for Dodge County, finishing with two earned runs, five hits, three walks (one hit batter) and eight strikeouts in seven innings.
Along with Jamieson, Adams (1 for 3, hit by pitch), Rutledge (1 for 3) and Benefield (2 for 3, double) also produced hits for Cartersville.
Indians’ hitters were Clements, 2 for 3 (hit by pitch, double, two RBIs); Andrew Hardy, 1 for 3 (walk); Chick, 1 for 4; Smith, 1 for 3 (walk, RBI); Jonathan Perdue, 1 for 3; and, Josh Perdue, 1 for 3 (double).
Game 1: Canes 8, Dodge County 2
With nearly as many runs as it had in its entire second-round series, Cartersville silenced the host team early on in Game 1, tallying nine hits total — four of which went for extra-base hits — en route to a seven-run victory.
While each team had two-out singles in their respective halves of the first inning, neither scored as the Canes stranded two base runners and Dodge County one.
Cartersville again left a pair of runners on base in the top of the second, with three straight outs, but not before Rutledge dropped in an RBI single to shallow right-center field to make it 1-0.
Drew Lawson helped the Canes add to that lead in the third by smashing a run-scoring double to the left-center field wall — the second such hit after Ty Fowler’s first-inning double to just about the same spot. They took a three-run lead when Quattlebaum, pinch running for Lawson, scored on a wild pitch by the Indians’ Smith.
Fowler’s two-run home run to left in the fifth — his second long ball in as many series — staked Cartersville to a rather secure 5-0 lead, but Dodge County negated that shot with one of its own.
After the Canes added a run on an error in the top of the sixth, Cain Peterson, the Indians’ No. 5 hitter, launched a two-run homer into the trees in dead center in the bottom half of the inning.
However, it would be the only runs Dodge County would manage to string together as Cartersville finished out its scoring with a pair of runs in the seventh, which came on an error and wild pitch.
The Canes’ Hayes Linn earned the Game 1 win, pitching a complete game, three-hitter while striking out nine and walking two (one hit batter).
Other than a line drive to the backside in the seventh, which he shook off to induce a game-ending groundout — Linn had little trouble in a superb series-opening victory.
Things were a little bumpier for his counterpart, the Indians’ Smith. Smith pulled his hamstring warming up before the game but gutted it out to match Linn’s complete game effort. His stat line reflected his less-than-100 percent status as Smith finished with nine hits, six walks and three strikeouts.
Cartersville’s hitters were Adams, 2 for 4 (double), who had an RBI on a sacrifice bunt in the sixth; Underwood, 1 for 4; Lawson, 1 for 4 (double, RBI); Linn, 1 for 3 (walk); Fowler, 2 for 3 (double, home run, two RBIs); and, Rutledge, 2 for 3 (RBI).
Dodge County’s collection of hits came off the bats of Hardy, Chick and Peterson.