However, according to head coach Stuart Chester, one similarity between the six state title teams and this season’s squad has already been put on display during the Canes’ first-round sweep against White County.
That commonality comes in the form of senior first baseman David Darnell, who like several state champions before him, went from an occasional starter to the catalyst of a state tournament victory.
“We always have, at some point in time in the playoffs, someone that steps up,” Chester said of Darnell. “David had not started all year long except for a few games, but he did that Friday and did a great job.”
Darnell started 12 of Cartersville’s 27 games this season, often coming off the bench, playing in 22. Because of an injury to the regular starting first baseman, Destin Herron, Darnell got the start at first base in both games Friday.
His biggest contribution was an eighth-inning, walk-off hit to center field with two outs after falling behind in the count, 0-2. The hit gave the Canes the 3-2 victory and put them in position to sweep the series.
“We train for stuff like that all year. As a baseball player, that’s the situation you want,” Darnell said of his walk-off hit. “It felt good to just get it for the team. I just wanted to win.”
In addition to the walk-off hit, Darnell scored Cartersville’s second run in Game 1 after doubling in the fourth inning off Georgia commit Spencer Adams.
He then went on to hit a double and drive in two runs in the 14-3 Game 2 victory.
Darnell now joins the list of Cartersville players, who were not everyday starters, but came through in important games during the playoffs.
“Back in ’08, we had Jared Whatley and Chris Huth,” Chester said. “They were not your regular starters throughout the regular season, and they ended up winning a state championship for us.”
Whatley had the game-winning hit against Columbus during the quarterfinals in 2008 after serving as a reserve outfielder much of the season. “Jared was a rock. He was an outfielder and he ended up [the designated hitter] and hitting like .600 in the month of May. You couldn’t get him out,” Chester said. “Jared played in spots, but he started every game in the playoffs. He won Mr. May and that’s an award given out to whoever our hottest player is in May. It’s kind of like Mr. October.”
Huth pitched Game 3 of the Columbus series that season and picked up the win. His most notable game, however, was Game 3 of the state championship series against Sephens County when he threw a one-hitter and struck out 12. At one point, Huth struck out nine consecutive batters between the second and fourth innings of the 13-1 victory. He also went 2-for-3 at the plate with a three-run home run and a double in the five inning game.
“They were both seniors and they played backup roles for about half the season,” Chester said of Whatley and Huth. “Because of their attitudes and their desire, and their love for the sport and this program, they ended up being pillars for us to win a state championship.”
Darnell shares similar qualities to Whatley and Huth in his willingness to serve his role and help his team win when his number is called.
“Honestly, it didn’t matter to me if I was the one hitting or not,” Darnell said of his at bat in the eighth inning. “No matter who that was, as long as the team is winning, I don’t care.”
Cartersville’s second-round series begins Wednesday at Richard Bell Field against Woodward Academy. Whether Darnell gets the start in Game 1 remains to be seen. Regardless, Chester believes any one of his players could be the next Whatley, Huth or Darnell.
“We’ve had kids play different positions, different DH’s this season,” Chester said. “That’s why we preach how important everybody is, but in this particular series, David was called on to start at first and to hit and he shined.”