Cartersville sweeps Heritage, clinches spot in championship series

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Anthony Seigler has reached a level of respect few high school baseball players ever earn.

The Cartersville superstar has been so locked in at the plate this postseason that Heritage intentionally walked him to leadoff the sixth inning of a tie game with its season on the line.

Seigler had hit a solo home run his previous at bat, but the move still shocked him.

"I was a little surprised, because there was nobody on," Seigler said. "So I thought there was no way they were going to walk me, but they did. I was pretty surprised, but in my mind, as soon as I get on first, I don't care how, I'm going to score."

He did just that.

Josh Davis laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, Seigler stole third and Mason Barnett singled him home for the go-ahead run. It led to a five-run outburst that propelled the Canes to a 10-2 victory in Game 2 of the Class 4A state semifinals.

The win, which followed a thrilling 6-5 triumph in Game 1, landed Cartersville a date with Jefferson in the state championship series next week in Rome.

While Canes head coach Kyle Tucker said he wasn't surprised Seigler got the free pass to begin the sixth, he knew his team would need to manufacture a run to qualify for the finals.

"The way I'm looking at it is we need one run and six outs," Tucker said. "However we can get that one run. ... Those guys came through. We executed. You don't always execute, but we did then and that's why we're going to the state championship series."

After Barnett's single, Jake Gooch launched a triple to force a pitching change. Devin Warner wound up with a double on a grounder through a drawn-in infield and the flood gates opened.

Cartersville ended up taking a 7-2 lead into the sixth and tacked on three more in the seventh to pull away for the win.

It was a much different ending than Game 1 produced.

With Barnett and arguably the best pitcher in the state Cole Wilcox facing off in the opener, the last thing fans would have expected would be both teams scoring in the first inning.

But that's exactly what happened as both aces struggled out of the gates.

Barnett allowed a pair of runs in the top half of the first before drawing a key walk with two outs in the home half against Wilcox. Gooch parked the next pitch over the right field fence for a two-run, opposite-field blast to tie the score.

"It was big," Seigler said of Gooch's bomb. "I felt like it let us breathe a little bit more and got us more relaxed. Our mindset shifted instantly. I felt like Gooch hitting that home run helped us immensely."

Cartersville wasn't done, though. Following Gooch's homer, Warner doubled down the left-field line, and Jordan Wilkie poked a single to right to give the Canes the lead after one.

The teams exchanged single tallies in the fourth inning.

A triple into the left-field corner and a great slide at home allowed Heritage to tie the score. Preston Welchel scored to give the Canes the lead again when Wilcox failed to cover home plate on a wild pitch.

Gage Morris entered for Barnett to start the fifth and sent the Generals down in order. However, Wilcox singled to begin the sixth. A huge error on a bunt allowed two runs to score, giving Heritage a 5-4 advantage.

"It was a gut punch," Tucker said. "We had the lead, pitching pretty well, make an error and they score two runs."

Morris managed to escape without further damage, and Cartersville answered for the third time.

With Wilcox still on the bump, Welchel drew a one-out walk. Seigler, who finished the series 6-for-7, cranked a double to the wall, scoring Welchel.

Davis, who had been 0-for-3, hit a single to left that sent Seigler charging home. Tucker said he had no hesitation, and Seigler just made it around the catcher safely.

"I was sending him the whole way," Tucker said. "They have good outfield arms, but against Cole Wilcox, you don't know how many opportunities you're going to have. At that point, it was tied, Anthony's our best baserunner and their outfielder made a great throw. He beat it."

Seigler knew it was going to be a close play.

"I didn't think I was going to get around him," he said. "Honestly, I thought I was going to have to jump over him."

After scoring the go-ahead run, Seigler headed to the bullpen to prepare to enter for the save in the seventh.

He got two quick outs before a walk brought Wilcox to the plate. The former USA Baseball teammates switched roles, but Seigler still got the better of Wilcox, striking him out to end the instant classic.

"It was cool, because I got to face Cole," Seigler said of pitching the seventh. "I didn't walk that dude on purpose. They all thought I did, but I really didn't. It was cool just getting that last dude out and getting to go into Game 2 with a win was definitely huge."

Just like in Game 1, Cartersville instantly fell behind 2-0. Wilcox singled in run off Cohen Wilbanks and Josh Gibson beat out a potential double play to score another.

Tucker admitted his team might have entered the second game a little too confident.

"A ton but maybe a little too much," Tucker said of how much confidence winning Game 1 gave his players. "It's tough when you do that. I told the guys I was so proud of them, but I told them they couldn't bask in it. We had another game in 40 minutes. Take nothing away from Heritage, they came out and scored two runs."

Take nothing away from Wilbanks, though, because the junior settled down and cruised through the next five innings. He ended up allowing just those two runs on six hits and walk with eight strikeouts.

"I though Cohen got better and better and better as the game went on," Tucker said. "... If you had told me this morning that Cohen was going to go six innings and give up two runs, I would have felt pretty good about our chances."

The Canes got back in the game again with the longball. Seigler and Davis went back-to-back off Heritage starter Tripp Church with two outs in the third inning.

Both pitchers settled in until Cartersville took advantage of the intentional leadoff walk in the sixth to punch its ticket to the ninth state finals in program history.

The Canes were last playing for a state title in 2014 and last won the championship in 2013. Following the offseason coaching turmoil, it's been incredible to see Tucker and his crew overcome all the adversity to get to this point.

But he knows the job isn't done yet.

"I'm just so happy for the seniors," Tucker said. "When all this went down last July, I called all the seniors, all 10 of them, and said, 'I don't know what's going to happen, but let's go do things right, and my goal is to give y'all a memorable senior year.' That was the goal from step one. ...

"Thankfully, that's happened, but I don't want it to stop. I want them to be able to experience a dogpile, and our tradition if we win a state title, to jump into Nancy Creek over here. I would love for them to do that."