The Cartersville High softball team (12-9, 4-5) is hoping to hold on to the fourth seed in Region 5-AAAA and secure home-field advantage in the first round of the region tournament in a couple of weeks.
The Lady Canes took a major step toward doing just that Saturday with their sweep of a doubleheader against Troup County at the Cartersville Softball Complex.
Cartersville dispatched Troup 8-2 in the first game and 12-0 in four innings in the second game.
“It’s right where I thought we would be this time of year,” head coach Shannon Dietrich said of Cartersville’s fourth-place standing. “These were huge games for us. The girls knew coming in that we had to play our best, and we did. We played great [Saturday].”
The first game saw the Lady Canes start hot offensively as they scored all eight runs before the end of the fourth inning.
Cartersville scored two runs in the first when an error scored Allie Jackson all the way from first base, and then Jackson scored on a double by Lauren McElhaney.
An error scored Tara Mathis after her single in the second inning to make the score 3-0, and after Troup scored one run in the top of the third, the Lady Canes responded with two in the bottom of the frame. Back-to-back doubles by Paris Poston and Hannah Todd led off the inning, and a two-out RBI single by Madison McKinney capped the scoring ... or at least until Cartersville’s next turn at bat.
The Lady Canes put up three more in the fourth inning, highlighted by hits from Molly Wilson, Jackson and McElhaney.
Troup scored one unearned run in the fifth, but it would not be enough to spoil another strong pitching performance by Todd, who went the distance while allowing just one earned run on six hits with 12 strikeouts. The North Carolina commit has now pitched 77.1 innings, holds a 1.72 ERA, an impressive 0.89 WHIP, and has struck out 110 on the season.
“She’s been our ace for sure,” Dietrich said of Todd. “She’s been working hard for us and she comes out and does her job every day. She understands, when she’s in the circle, they’re big games and we need her.”
It was sophomore Colbi Ballard’s turn to pitch in the second game, and Ballard threw a four-inning shutout, allowing one hit and one walk with four strikeouts. Ballard now has a 1.27 ERA in 33 innings with 29 strikeouts on the year.
“She’s established herself as our No. 2 girl and she got ahead of hitters [Saturday],” Dietrich said of Ballard. “She’s not someone who is going to blow it by hitters, but she changes speeds, changes eye level. And she really did a great job putting herself in counts and letting the defense help her out with groundballs.”
Behind Ballard, Cartersville made no errors and had just one over the course of the double dip. According to Dietrich, the defense has been one of the most improved aspects of the Lady Canes this season.
“I feel, over the past month, pitching and defense have definitely been our strong points,” she said. “Sometimes, losing one-run games, offensively we’ve been struggling with the bats and our defense and pitching has kept us in so many games.”
While Cartersville has lost five one-run games and been shutout five times so far this season against some quality pitching, the offense did not struggle on this day.
The Lady Canes put up two six-run outbursts in the second game of the doubleheader to invoke the run rule after four innings. The Cartersville bats seem to be coming around after the team scored 23 runs in a win over Sandy Creek on Thursday.
“They’ve been working hard. It’s nice to see that the hard work is paying off for them,” Dietrich said of her team’s hitters. “We needed it just to boost our confidence and just remind us how good we are and what we’re capable of.”
The first six-run inning came in the second. A leadoff double by Presley Edwards, singles by Ballard, Wilson and Cio Seigler, and an error did the damage.
In the fourth, Cartersville would score six more runs. Poston and McElhaney led off with singles, followed by a hit by pitch to Seigler, an RBI walk to Tara Mathis, an RBI single by Edwards and an RBI single by McKinney. Ballard then drove home two with an RBI double to left-center before the game was called.
“All around, it was great. Defense was great, pitchers were great. They got ahead of counts and we got into a lot of pitcher’s counts, which was nice.”
Cartersville has three more region games, including a doubleheader against LaGrange, which is the team directly behind the Lady Canes in the standings.
A sweep of that series would clinch fourth place and home-field advantage in the first round of the region tournament. It also may be a preview of the Lady Canes’ first-round matchup.
“We have three region games left, one against Chapel Hill on Tuesday, and next Saturday, we travel to Chapel Hill,” Dietrich said, “which are going to be just as significant as [Saturday]. They’re going to be huge for us.”