Head coach Stuart Chester and the Purple Hurricanes are regulars in the state championship, but not many of their players can say the same.
With only two college commits and none headed to Division I schools, Cartersville is replacing nine starting bats from last year.
As a result, a new name stepping up each game has become the M.O. for the Canes as they have used a collective effort to reach the championship series, which begins Saturday with a doubleheader scheduled to start at 3 p.m. at Richard Bell Field.
“It’s all different this time,” senior shortstop Clifton Dempsey said of the difference between last year’s state championship team and this season’s state finalist. “I don’t really have those guys to look up to, but we’re all gelling together and we look up to each other instead of looking up to one person. That’s on our side because we can look to any one of us to make a big play.”
It was a collective pitching performance that resulted in a Game 3 semifinals win against Buford.
Jack Mayo was the surprise starter despite having not pitched in any of Cartersville’s previous three playoff series.
Mayo gave Cartersville one inning before Lane Wilson took the hill and pitched five innings, allowing just one hit.
Although Wilson has pitched well in the playoffs, he was an unlikely hero for Cartersville.
“I think if you asked [Chester], ‘Who will be your first two pitchers in Game 3 of the state semis?,’ it probably wouldn’t be them,” assistant coach Kyle Tucker said of Mayo and Wilson after the Game 3 win. “That’s what it takes to win in the postseason. It takes guys to step up and we have a whole team of them.”
With Chester suspended for two games after being ejected in Game 2 on Monday, Tucker took over the third base coaching duties while David Cagle handled the pitching staff and coached first base.
Continuing with the trend of multiple players stepping up, the Canes were depending on three pitchers to eat up the seven innings.
“We all talked about it and we knew we had a plan,” Cagle said of how to set up Cartersville’s pitching. “Lane was going to throw the bulk of the game and we were trying to get him to the sixth or seventh inning for Garrett [Rutledge]. So we decided early [Tuesday] morning that if Jack could give us two innings, then we could go to Lane and he could get to the sixth or seventh.”
The plan worked well as Mayo was slotted to bat in the ninth spot in the order, but because Wilson relieved Mayo on the mound, Cartersville was able to get Wilson to the plate in the second inning. The maneuver worked as Wilson delivered a sacrifice fly in the second to score Cartersville’s second run of the game.
“Lane is a pretty good hitter and we figured we could stick Jack at the bottom of the order and pinch hit Lane when his spot came up,” Cagle said. “All of them did a great job. It was a team effort.”
Last season, Quattlebaum was impactful to the state championship with his exploits as a pinch runner.
This postseason, it has been his bat, or perhaps his batter’s eye, that has helped lead Cartersville, typically out of the No. 9 spot in the order.
Quattlebaum has a .581 on-base percentage in 10 games this postseason, 31 plate appearances, to go along with a .458 batting average.
He is one of the more pronounced examples of a player who has come from under the radar to take a prominent role. In fact, he did not think he would even be a starter at the beginning of the season.
“I really didn’t think I was going to play this year,” Quattlebaum said. “Coach Chester always says there is a Chris Huth and a Jared Whatley [two players who emerged in the 2008 playoffs] every year. I just wanted to be that and lead the team in the right direction”
Quattlebaum went 3-for-3 in Game 3 with an RBI, a run scored and a double that led to a run in the fifth inning.
Quattlebaum’s production from the back end of the batting order represents a small sample of how Cartersville has utilized a complete team effort in its victories.
Just in Game 3, eight of the nine batters in the lineup either drove in at least one run or scored a run.
Rutledge and Arnold come up clutch
Two of the most productive players in Cartersville’s lineup have been Brent Arnold and Rutledge.
Rutledge also won Game 2 of the state championship series last year and came in for the save against Buford in Game 3
Despite throwing 90 pitches in Game 2, he was able to come back and pitch a scoreless seventh inning.
Rutledge has been stellar throughout the postseason, tallying four complete games and three wins.
“He would probably throw every inning if it was up to him, Tucker said. “Coach Chester is always talking to him, seeing how his arm feels.”
The senior has now pitched 27 innings in the postseason and allowed just six runs to go along with 19 strikeouts.
At the plate, Arnold has been the leader for Cartersville batting out of the No. 2 hole.
His bases-loaded, two-out triple drove home three runs and gave Cartersville the lead in a five-run second inning in Game 3. Arnold also played a key role in Game 2 as he hit a three-run home run in a five-run second inning.
The senior is now hitting .353, 12-for-34, in the playoffs with 10 RBIs, five runs scored and four extra-base hits.