Don't make the Cartersville baseball team angry. You wouldn't like the Canes when they're angry.
Just ask Cedartown.
After a drama-filled first meeting, Cartersville left no doubt who the superior team was Thursday. Three pitchers combined on a no-hitter, while a 10-run opening frame allowed the Canes to cruise to a 15-0, four-inning Region 5-AAAA win.
Head coach Kyle Tucker, a Cartersville High graduate himself, downplayed how much the previous matchup motivated his players. He instead pointed to the long-standing nature of the rivalry between the Canes and the Bulldogs.
"There's no doubt they were excited for this game, not so much [because of] the last Cedartown game," Tucker said. "Cartersville and Cedartown is a rivalry that goes back. In the late '90s, that's who we battled for the region championship. Way before I was here, it's been a rivalry in all sports."
That being said, it's hard to buy that the first meeting in 2018 didn't influence the mindset of the Cartersville (21-6, 9-0) entering the second. Between unprofessional officiating, an ejection of Anthony Seigler and Devin Warner, and a bat flip that would make Jose Bautista blush, things got pretty heated March 26 in Cedartown (10-13, 3-7).
The only things that got hot Thursday were the Cartersville bats.
In the bottom of the first, the Canes had seven hits and four walks. They turned those into 10 runs.
Seigler and Josh Davis walked to open the frame before Mason Barnett hit an RBI single. After a pop out, walks to Warner and Ian Inaba brought home the second run of the game.
Then came an absolutely ludicrous series of hits.
Jordan Wilkie hit a two-run single; Chandler Tromza had an RBI double; Preston Welchel drove home two with a double; Seigler had a run-scoring two-bagger; Davis brought home a run with a single; and Barnett doubled home Davis.
That all came before the second out was even recorded.
"If we knew how to bottle it up and use it every game, we would," Tucker said. "One of our coaches said, 'It's just a good day at the ballpark, and it was.' Things went our way today. ...
"The old saying in baseball is hitting is contagious, and that first inning was an example of that. It felt like we were hitting the ball in the gap. We were pleased with solid contact, good line-drives."
Somewhere during that hit parade, the game effectively ceased to be a competitive contest, but the Canes didn't let up.
Cartersville tacked on another couple of runs in the second inning.
Wilkie, Tromza and Welchel each picked up their second hit of the night. Tromza's knock — another double — scored Wilkie, and Seigler brought home Tromza for a 12-0 advantage.
After managing just two walks across three innings against Cartersville starter Jake Gooch, Cedartown finally threatened in the fourth — albeit still without the benefit of a hit.
Jack Haney was hit by a Curtis Wilkes pitch to start the frame. Even though Haney never looked like charging at Wilkes, the home plate umpiresprinted towards the mound to stay between the two players just in case — a sure sign he had been briefed on the recent history.
A couple of walks saw Wilkes depart without recording an out. On came Gage Morris, who himself was lifted with the bases loaded against Chapel Hill on Tuesday.
As Cohen Wilbanks did Tuesday, Morris picked up his teammate. The first batter Morris faced grounded back to him, leading to a 1-2-3 double play. The next batter did the same thing, so Morris threw to first to escape the jam.
Tucker was glad to see Morris come through.
"That's the thing for this year that we're really trying to express to them: It is a team," Tucker said. "You're not going to always have your best day. The other day, Gage didn't have his best outing, and he would be the first to admit it. Cohen, who was catching him [Thursday], got him out of a jam.
"Gage was upset, because he's a competitor and I said, 'Gage, buddy, we've relied on you a ton, and we'll have to rely on you again. It may be Thursday, it may be Friday [or] it may be in three weeks.' It happened to be the next game."
Having a pitcher enter to try to Houdini his way out of a bases-loaded, no-out situation has happened far too often this year for Tucker's liking.
"I'd rather us not get into those anymore," he said with a laugh.
Morris' clutch showing gave Cartersville a chance to walk it off in the bottom of the fourth.
With mainly substitutes having entered the game, the Bulldogs got two quick outs before Welchel walked. Wilbanks followed with a double, which Tucker said might have been his first varsity hit, to score Welchel.
Kolby Adams reached on Cedartown's only error of the game, and it proved costly. The error itself allowed Wilbanks to score, and John Reed Evans sent everyone home early with his double into the left-center field gap that invoked the run-rule.
The emphatic victory was in stark contrast to Tuesday's surprising nail-biter against Chapel Hill. Maybe the 11-6 win, which included a five-run seventh inning, over the last-place Panthers, woke up the Canes — or maybe it just made them angry.
"It's good to see," Tucker said of Thursday's showing. "We try to play the game with the utmost respect. No matter the opponent, we play to our standard. If we play to our standard, we can live with those results. If you don't, you can put yourselves in jeopardy."