However, as always, there were several talented players in the area, which allowed for some outstanding individual performances to go along with some major success stories.
The most notable of the success stories was provided by Cartersville, which after losing 14 seniors and nine starters from the 2013 state championship season, retooled to win Region 5-AAA and finish as state runner-up.
The Purple Hurricanes won two three-game series’ in the state quarterfinals and semifinals, coming from behind after facing elimination twice.
Cartersville finished with a region record of 12-2 and an overall record of 25-13, despite playing a competitive out-of-region schedule.
Cass also reached the state playoffs for the second consecutive season, overcoming a 3-10 start to find itself the fourth seed out of Region 7-AAAA.
The Colonels peaked at the end of the season and had to win a three-game series against Heritage-Catoosa to qualify. They managed to do so in three tightly contested games.
Unfortunately for Cass, it was matched up against eventual state champion Carrollton in the first round. The Colonels actually gave Carrollton one of its closest series in the playoffs, but came up short to fall in two games.
Cass finished with a record of 9-18 and 7-8 in region play.
Meanwhile, Adairsville fell just short of a state playoff berth. The Tigers ended their season 13-11 and 6-8 in region 5-AAA, just a game back of North Murray for the fourth and final playoff spot in the region.
Adairsville was unable to steal a game during a stretch late in the season against the top three teams in the region — Cartersville, Ringgold and Sonoraville — although the Tigers played each close and lost to Ringgold by one run in extra innings.
As for Woodland, the Wildcats finished 10-16 and 7-13 in the competitive Region 5-AAAAA. Woodland won two of its final three games, and five of its last eight, creating some positive momentum with plenty of young talent returning for the 2015 season.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Clifton Dempsey — Cartersville
Cartersville’s senior shortstop hit .358 this season and led the county in runs scored with 28, and was second in RBIs with 26. He also held a .436 on-base percentage and hit seven doubles, many of which came against quality pitchers in Cartersville’s competitive out-of-region and playoff schedule. He also delivered numerous clutch, two-strike, two-out hits with runners in scoring position in the state playoffs and was second on the team with 10 postseason RBIs.
In addition, Dempsey led the county among regular infielders with a .917 fielding percentage and a .945 fielding percentage in the state tournament.
However, Dempsey’s contributions to the state runners-up cannot be quantified with statistics. His leadership and highlight plays at shortstop were major reasons why the Canes made a deep run in the playoffs.
Dempsey’s defensive impact was no more evident than during the fifth inning of Game 3 of the quarterfinal series against Callaway. Protecting a three-run lead with runners on first and second and no outs, Dempsey made a diving play on a hard-hit groundball in the hole between short and third base to keep a run from scoring.
Still, Callaway had the bases loaded with no outs. The next batter then hit a hard line drive that seemed destined to be a hit and score two runs. The 5-foot-9 shortstop climbed the ladder and leaped to his full extension to snare the liner for the out. He then threw to third base to record the double play. The third-base runner had gone halfway to home plate believing the ball was uncatchable.
The next Callaway batter hit a slow roller to shortstop where Dempsey charged, picked the ball off the infield grass and fired to first base for the final out of the inning.
“He was solid at the plate, but defensively, he’s the one player that can take a game over,” Cartersville head coach Stuart Chester said of Dempsey.
The Maryville signee was the only regular starter left over from the 2013 season and became Cartersville’s leader over the course of the year.
“I think we got better as the year went on because he understood his role to become a leader more every game,” Chester said of Dempsey. “That was one of the reasons why we got better and better and gelled at the right time.”
According to Chester, Dempsey put himself among the ranks of great Cartersville players before him.
“We’ve had a tradition of great shortstops to come through here — Russ Mitchell, Connor Justus and Clifton Dempsey’s name is going to be right up there with those guys.”
PITCHER OF THE YEAR
Hunter Osborn — Cartersville
Cartersville was led all season by a pitching staff that allowed just over two runs per game. The ace of that staff was senior Hunter Osborn.
The Reinhardt signee finished the year with a 1.35 ERA. In 13 appearances, nine starts, he struck out 76 batters in 51 2/3 innings, allowing only 44 baserunners. Opposing hitters batted just .162 against him.
“He gave me a very good night’s sleep the day before he pitched. I’d sleep good because I knew, regardless of who we were playing, we had a chance with him on the mound,” Chester said of Osborn.
Osborn shut down nearly every lineup he pitched against, but his biggest win was against Ringgold on March 27 when he pitched a complete-game shutout facing the Canes’ biggest competition in the region. Osborn struck out nine and allowed just two hits in the game.
His stuff was even more untouchable in Game 1 of the state championship series against Blessed Trinity. Osborn pitched seven innings, allowed just one hit, no walks and one unearned run. He added six strikeouts.
“[Osborn] had a big role in 2013, but when you lose Hayes [Linn] and Connor [Justus], we had to have someone step up and be the post guy, and that was him,” Chester said. “His control was plus — fastball, curveball, changeup was plus. His demeanor on the mound, he took over. Last year, he maybe pitched to contact, but this year, he was like, ‘I’m the man and it’s going to start and stop right here.’”
Hunter Siniard — Woodland
Siniard was the model of consistency for the Wildcats. The senior produced at least one hit in 19 of Woodland’s 26 games, finishing the year with a .319 batting average and a .429 on-base percentage.
“[Siniard] was able to be very consistent offensively throughout the year,” Woodland head coach Corey Gochee said. “You look at his numbers and when he got his hits, he didn’t have any time where he just didn’t get it done.”
Siniard was used in a utility role, playing catcher, first base, pitcher and being used as a designated hitter.
“He was a great utility guy,” Gochee said. “We were fortunate enough to have some other guys be able to catch that allowed Hunter to be able to pitch more.”
Siniard hit .333 during region play in a region loaded with big arms. For the season, he drove in 14 runs and scored 17.
Sean McDermott — Adairsville
McDermott was the ideal first baseman for the Tigers — tall, strong and able to pick it at first base.
The junior pounded Region 5-AAA pitching with a .405 batting average and was second in the county with a .584 slugging percentage thanks to two home runs and eight doubles in 77 at-bats. He also was Adairsville’s primary run producer from the No. 3 hole and cleanup spot, driving in 24 runs.
“He had a heck of a season,” Adairsville head coach Billy Roper said of McDermott. “He helped us hitting. He had a little arm trouble early in the year, but we finally got him and he solidified kind of like a closer or middle relief role for us.”
According to Roper, McDermott was a complete baseball player.
“He’s a tremendous first baseman. As many runs as he knocked in, he probably helped us save more over there at first base,” he said of McDermott. “He’s a big body, just really held down that spot for us.”
Alex Yauslin — Cass
Cass got off to a rough start this season, particularly with the bats as the Colonels were averaging 1.5 runs per game through their first 14 games. It was then that Cass head coach Adam Williams decided to make a change and move his senior first baseman down to the ninth spot in the order. The Cass bats responded by scoring 26 runs in a three-game series sweep of Pickens and the move stuck. Yauslin hit .414 in the second half of the season and was involved in several of the team’s rallies on its way to reaching the state playoffs.
“Yauslin got hot for us there in the middle of region play. We ended up moving him to our nine-hole hitter. He really did a good job of flipping the lineup for us, bringing [leadoff hitter Chris Morton] back to the plate,” Williams said. “He kind of gave us a threat at the bottom of the order to drive in runs, but also got on the base for the top of the order to drive in runs.”
Yauslin finished the season batting .295 with a .403 on-base percentage and .475 slugging percentage, tops on the team. He hit six doubles, a triple and a home run while scoring 14 runs.
Soon after being moved down to the nine hole, he exploded against Pickens on April 3 with a 3-for-3 performance, including three RBIs, three runs scored, a double and a home run.
“Yauslin hit with some power, drove the ball into gaps,” Williams said. “The kid hit some doubles, triples and home runs down the stretch there.”
David Darnell — Cartersville
Darnell started in just 12 of 27 games during the regular season. Because of an injury to the regular starting first baseman, Destin Herron, Darnell got the start in Game 1 of Cartersville’s first-round playoff series against White County. He would go on to start all 12 playoff games for the Canes at first base, leading the team in the state tournament with a .378 batting average. He also delivered a walk-off, two-strike, two-out base hit in the eighth inning of Game 1 against White County to put the Canes in position to sweep the series.
The senior also played stellar at first base in the postseason, making just one error and 67 putouts, including several highlight plays scooping balls in the dirt and stabbing line drives.
“A storybook year for him. He didn’t start at the beginning the year. We had different people starting and he hung in there with a good attitude and got his bat hot,” Chester said of Darnell. “Defensively, he made some very key plays. He played a very big part in us going to the state championship.”
Brent Arnold — Cartersville
Like Darnell, Arnold did not begin the season as a starter, but quickly solidified himself as a regular and became the county’s most productive hitter. The senior second baseman hit .370 with an on-base percentage of .453 and a county-leading .622 slugging percentage. He also led the county in home runs with six and RBIs with 28. He added eight doubles and scored 22 runs on the year.
“He had just a stellar year,” Chester said of Arnold. “Brent has always had that potential to be the game changer with the bat. Brent didn’t start at the beginning of the year, but he hung in there and got his opportunities. Once his confidence went up, he raised the batting average of the people in front of him and behind him because you really don’t want to get to him.”
Arnold was particularly impressive during the state tournament when he hit .341 with a home run, two triples, three doubles and drove in 12 runs.
One of those triples and three of those RBIs came in Game 3 of the state semifinal series against Buford. Down by a score of 3-1 with two outs and the bases loaded, Arnold hit a triple to clear the bases and give Cartersville the lead, one the Canes would hold on to and win the series.
The previous game, Arnold hit a three-run homer to give Cartersville a commanding 5-0 lead and push the series to a third game.
The clutch play was nothing new to Arnold, who hit the game-winning, three-run home run against Ringgold when the two teams were tied atop the region standings on April 16. The home run completed a four-run comeback and helped Cartersville secure the No. 1 seed heading into the state playoffs.
Tristin Smith — Adairsville
Along with McDermott, Smith provided the run production in the middle of the batting order for Adairsville all season and drove in 11 RBIs. Smith posted the highest on-base percentage in the county, .533, and the second-highest batting average at .415. He hit five doubles, producing a .492 slugging percentage and was second in the county with a 1.025 OPS.
In addition to his production at the plate, the senior was the backbone of Adairsville’s defense at shortstop.
“Tristin batted right there in the heart, three-four, of our lineup. He played in that six hole. He had to pitch, but we didn’t really pitch him a lot because it made us weaker at shortstop,” Roper said of Smith. “He did a great job. What he’s done the last three or four years and he had a phenomenal year. He led us in walks. He was on a lot of times for McDermott. Sometimes we even switched Tristin and McDermott so Tristin could protect McDermott. All in all, he was one of our most overall players.”
Braden Harris — Woodland
After losing most of his infielders from the 2013 season, Gochee knew he would have to rely on his senior shortstop to have a big year, if not at the plate then with the glove.
As expected, Harris had an outstanding season defensively, but it was his contributions at the plate that even caught Gochee by surprise.
He hit .333 in 66 at bats this season with a .429 on-base percentage to go along with 13 runs scored and 11 RBIs.
“Honestly, I wasn’t sure, offensively, how much he would give us, but he did a great job,” Gochee said of Harris. “He found ways on base. His quality at-bat numbers were, I think, second on the team. He did a great job with that on top of the defense, and I knew we were going to get that from him. Braden, defensively, is just as good as anybody around.”
In addition to his production, Harris served as a leader by example to the rest of his team.
“He just played hard every single pitch every at bat,” Gochee said. “We have a Wildcat award where we recognize the kid who hustles all the time, does exactly what he is asked to do, gets after it every single pitch. That was Braden Harris.”
Mason Robinson — Woodland
Robinson hit .362 with a .446 on-base percentage and a .537 slugging percentage despite playing in the deep Region 5-AAAAA. He hit three home runs and two triples, adding 23 RBIs and 17 runs scored in 92 at-bats.
“Mason’s a great kid who’s obviously a very good baseball player as well,” Gochee said. “He hit in the leadofff spot for us a good bit, the three hole for us. He was a key to a lot of our success throughout the last four years. You’re losing a kid that played the outfield for 3 1/2 years as a starter. Obviously, we’re going to miss his bat in the middle of the lineup.”
Robinson hit better in region play after a slow start to the season, batting .373 with a .610 slugging percentage after overcoming a stretch when he recorded just one hit in seven games. Robinson went on to finish the season on a seven-game hitting streak and had multi-hit games in six of his final 11. He had 15 RBIs in those final 11 games, including three four-RBI performances.
In two games against New Manchester, Robinson went 6-for-9 with a triple, home run and eight RBIs.
Riley Richards — Cartersville
One of three Cartersville all-county members who did not begin the season as a starter, Richards earned his playing time with both his production at the plate and his outstanding defense in center field.
Richards hit .480 with a .711 on-base percentage in 47 plate appearances during the regular season, earning him a starting position by the time the playoffs rolled around. The senior continued to produce into the postseason and reached base in nine of his team’s 12 state tournament games.
Even with his performance at the plate, it was Richards’ glove that stood out the most. Richards made one of the best plays of the season when, in the deciding Game 3 of the semifinal series against Buford, he ranged back to the wall, timed his jump and reached over the outfield fence to rob a home run.
“[Richards] is probably one of the best outfielders we’ve ever had,” Chester said. “He finally got his opportunity and took advantage of it. He made it so you couldn’t take him out of the lineup. He produced at the plate and in center field. He’s just a great athlete and a better person than anything.
“The year Riley Richards had, that’s the joy of coaching, to see a young man contribute like he did.”
Chris Morton — Cass
Cass’ offense got off to a slow start and had its ups and downs in 2014. However, one player who remained a consistent force throughout the year was leadoff hitter Chris Morton. The junior right fielder reached base at least once in 24 of Cass’ 27 games. He also led the Colonels in several offensive categories, including plate appearances (103), hits (25), doubles (9), RBIs (12), runs scored (16), walks (14) and even hit by pitches (6). Overall, he hit .312 on the year.
In addition to his consistency, Morton produced in Cass’ two most important games of the season. He recorded two hits in each of Cass’ two wins against Heritage-Catoosa to reach the state playoffs. He reached base eight times in the three-game series, epitomizing his value as a leadoff hitter.
“Chris Morton was the spark. He was the kid who hit leadoff and he was always upbeat, always trying to get everybody going,” Williams said. “At the plate, he was going up there to compete and that’s what he did very well. He would go to the plate and get hits when we needed them, score runs when we needed them and start rallies when we needed them.”
Garrett Rutledge — Cartersville
Rutledge had several strong performances in the regular season, finishing with a 5-2 record in 11 appearances, four starts, to go along with a 1.82 ERA.
However, it was in the postseason when the senior became the workhorse in the Cartersville rotation. Rutledge led the Canes in innings on the year with 73, and complete games with six. He threw a complete game in each of his five playoff starts, and even came on for a save in Game 3 of the semifinals against Buford after throwing a complete game the day before. He finished the postseason throwing 35 2/3 innings, allowing just 10 runs and striking out 30.
When he was not pitching, Rutledge provided a strong glove at third base, finishing the postseason with a .920 fielding percentage, including several critical plays with runners in scoring position.
“Garrett is just a pure competitor, probably the one player on the field who can play every position,” Chester said. “He’s the type that you can count on out there on the field. If the game’s on the line, he’s the type that wants to either hit or he wants to be on the mound. He was a huge part of our success in 2013 and Garrett Rutledge will be missed.”
Hunter Smith — Adairsville
Smith put up a gaudy batting average, hitting .435 with a .500 on-base percentage. However, it was the senior’s pitching exploits that proved most valuable as Smith became the unquestioned ace of the Adairsville staff. He finished the year with a 1.91 ERA in 37 2/3 innings with 38 strikeouts.
“Hunter Smith was definitely our No. 1. He’s one that if we had some run production, he would have been undefeated or maybe one loss,” Roper said. “He pitched some of the tougher games for us because we knew he would give us a chance to win the ballgame.”
Smith, also a right fielder, started the season toward the bottom of the batting order, but as he became one of the most productive hitters, was moved to the top of the lineup.
“He definitely hit a lot better than we thought. He really stepped it up,” Roper said. “He exceeded all expectations from an offensive standpoint, and from a pitching standpoint, he did what we expected him to do. He led our staff.”
Chris Hill — Cass
The right-handed submariner gave opposing hitters fits all season with his arm angle out of the bullpen. Hill threw 29 2/3, striking out 29 batters on his way to a 1.65 ERA.
Hill was one of the primary reasons Cass improved as the season progressed. The junior had a 0.95 ERA in his last 11 outings, 14 2/3 innings, to go along with 16 strikeouts.
He often came into close games with runners on base to get the most critical outs in big outings.
“You always felt good when Chris went into the game because you knew you were always three outs from getting out of the inning,” Williams said. “Chris, with his sidearm, would come in and just throw strikes and get outs for us. I wish we could have given him some more run support, played a little better behind him, but he did a great job of going out there and getting ground balls and getting us out of tight jams.”
Lane Wilson — Cartersville
Because the Cartersville pitching staff was shorthanded in the playoffs, Wilson was unexpectedly asked to start Game 1 of the team’s first-round series opposite White County’s Spencer Adams, who later became the 44th pick in the MLB amateur draft. Wilson more than held his own. He left a tie game after six innings with one earned run allowed and seven strikeouts. He came out of the bullpen in his next four postseason appearances, but continued to give Cartersville a chance to win. He finished the postseason with a 1.58 ERA and allowed just 18 baserunners in 17 1/3 innings to go along with two saves.
He came on in relief in Game 3 of the semifinals to pitch 4 2/3 innings, allowing just one hit to help Cartersville advance to the state championship. Wilson also had two RBIs at the plate in the two-run victory.
Wilson posted a 1.59 ERA over the course of the year, earning a record of 5-2 in 39 2/3 innings in addition to playing outfield and third base.
“We would not have did what we did without him. He fears nobody. He steps up on the mound and he produces,” Chester said of Wilson. “He’s not going to throw it by you, but he’s got command of three pitches. He definitely can carve you up.”
HONORABLE MENTION: Adairsville: Colin Bearden, Nate Medlock, Cody Melton; Cartersville — Elliott Berrey, Destin Herron, Cameron Neal, Mark Quattlebaum, Elliott Anderson; Cass — Bailey Campbell, Brandon Etheridge, Boo Reed, Sam Russell, Noah Sims, Ben Kapito; Woodland — Jarrett Kilgo, Justin Allen, Cauy Williams.