However, no two teams have breezed through the first two rounds the way Cartersville and Callaway have.
Coincidentally, the two match up against each other today at Richard Bell Field in the state quarterfinals.
First pitch will be at 4 p.m. with a second game slated to start at 6 p.m. If necessary, the third game will be played Wednesday.
“They’re good. They’ve been in the hunt the last two or three years,” Cartersville head coach Stuart Chester said of Callaway. “They’re from Troup County, which is loaded with baseball talent. They’re sitting down there with LaGrange, Troup, Shaw; they’re all very competitive. [Dusty] Hubburd is a very good guy, good coach, so they’re going to come in here with a lot of talent and be very well-coached. It’s a huge task for us.”
The task of beating Callaway in the state playoffs proved insurmountable for Central-Macon and Appling County. Each team was swept in the first and second round, respectively. Callaway defeated Central by scores of 10-0 and 12-0. The Cavaliers then dispatched Appling by scores of 10-0 and 15-0.
“They’re averaging probably 11 runs a game and haven’t given up any. I don’t care who you play and what level, that’s impressive,” Chester said.
Cartersville also has had little trouble with its first two opponents. The Canes swept top pitching prospect Spencer Adams and White County before sweeping Woodward Academy. Cartersville’s margin of victory in the four games was nearly eight runs per game.
“I think we have come together at the right time,” Chester said of his team. “We’ve just kept getting better and better and better.”
Still, Callaway will present the toughest challenge yet. The Cavaliers have a deep and talented lineup, owning a .335 team batting average in 2014 to go along with 12 home runs. They have 15 different players hitting .300 or better on the year and three more hitting above .270.
Callaway went 24-5 on the season and 13-1 on its way to a region title. The Cavaliers defeated Woodward Academy 4-3 on April 10.
Junior shortstop and pitcher Perry Keith is the top everyday hitter for the team and is batting .381 with a .461 on-base percentage. He has seven hits in 12 at-bats this postseason.
Callaway’s top power threat is senior outfielder Chase Freeman. Freeman is hitting .368 with 22 RBIs and 22 runs scored. He also has hit five home runs. He already has five RBIs in the playoffs.
Even with the firepower the Callaway lineup possesses, Chester is as concerned with the team speed as much as he is the power hitters.
“One through nine, they have exceptional team speed. I mean, they can fly. They put pressure on you on the bases and they put the ball in play,” Chester said of Callaway. “Against them, with team speed like they have, you don’t want to walk anybody. We have to throw strikes and we have to play defense. We don’t want to go out there and give them four outs an inning.”
Similar to the lineup, Callaway’s pitching staff is equally as deep. The Cavaliers’ team ERA is 1.91. Keith is the ace and has pitched 60 innings on the year. He is 7-1 on the year with seven complete games and a 1.28 ERA. He went the distance in each of his two starts against Central and Appling.
Along with Keith, Callaway has a strong three-man rotation that includes senior Nick O’Berry and junior Cody Mimbs. O’Berry has a 1.81 ERA on the year and Mimbs has a 3.43 ERA. Cartersville will likely see O’Berry in Game 2 and Mimbs in Game 3, if necessary.
O’Berry also has pitched two complete-game shutouts in his two postseason outings.
“[Callaway’s] pitching staff is solid and deep,” Chester said. “They have four or five guys that can throw it, anywhere from off-speed guys to hard throwers.
“Offensively, we have to find a way to score against their pitching staff.”
Cartersville’s pitching staff also has been very deep, but injuries have left the staff thin.
“We still have Garrett [Rutledge], Elliott [Anderson], Lane [Wilson] and Destin [Herron]. That’s four quality pitchers there,” Chester said. “I’d prefer to have about six or seven. We still have some young guys who throw after that. They just don’t have experience.”
Chester is fully aware of the task at hand, but is confident in the way his team has been playing.
“At this point in time, you’re not going to face any bad teams. It’s going to be a challenge to keep them from scoring and for us to score,” he said of the series. “Anything can happen this round. The advantage probably is that we’re playing at home. That probably helps us a little bit, but they’ve gone on the road and beat people, too.
“At this point in the season, it’s too late to have a letdown. If we compete and improve form the last round, it’ll be a good series.”