With all but three players returning for the 2014 season, the Lady Canes once again have high expectations as they move up to Class AAAA under first-year Cartersville head coach Shannon Dietrich.
“They’re excited. They got a little taste of it last year of what they can do and we have a good bunch coming back. We’re ready to go get them and be there at the end of the season and in the playoffs. That’s our main goal,” Dietrich said of her team. “The girls are working hard. They are coming every day. The commitment’s there. They’ve done everything I can ask for.”
Cartersville returns the battery of all-county co-pitcher of the year Annalyn Yantis in addition to all-region second-team catcher Kennedy Bailey.
Yantis pitched to a 1.59 ERA as a junior and had 204 strikeouts in 171 2/3 innings. The Samford commit will once again be Cartersville’s primary starter for the fourth consecutive year.
“[Yantis] is our No. 1 and she’s going to carry us as far as we’re going to go,” Dietrich said.
Bailey will be a junior and led the team and tied for the county lead with 29 RBIs a season ago. She hit .337 and had a .420 on-base percentage.
All-county co-player of the year Mallory Jackson will return at first base for Cartersville, although she may play some outfield with Savannah Summers working in at first base.
A senior, Jackson hit .364 last season with 21 runs scored and 20 RBIs in 88 at bats. Her .568 slugging percentage was tops among players in the four county schools that played region schedules.
Also returning will be senior shortstop Annie Holsomback.
“She has the experience and she has great tools. She’s a solid infielder,” Dietrich said of Holsomback. “She’s going to be a big part of this team. She has a lot of experience there and she’s ready.”
Despite the losses of second baseman Tillery Tidwell and third baseman Maddie Geiger, Dietrich believes infield defense will be a strength this season.
“We’re very solid,” she said. “We’re going to win games based on our defense and our pitching. We’re very deep in the infield.”
At second base, Brittany Huth will have an increased role in her junior season. Behind her is Allie Jackson, part of a promising group of freshmen.
“The freshmen class is very strong,” Dietrich said. “We’re going to look good in the future, which is really nice to see. A lot of incoming girls know the game and have the experience, so that’s really going to help us out.”
At third base will be sophomore Madison McKinney and Cartersville has depth at the position with junior Michaela Crowe and sophomore Tara Mathis. That depth will add competition for spots, according to Dietrich.
“We’re carrying 18 girls, so we certainly have depth all around,” she said. “We’re two, three deep with a freshman at almost every position ready to take over.”
In the outfield, all-county left fielder Kailah Rain is off to play softball at Embry-Riddle. As a result, senior Hunter Irvin will be an important piece, both offensively and defensively, in center field.
“You’re going to have Hunter, Kennedy Bailey, Mallory Jackson in the middle — probably 3, 4, 5 — maybe not necessarily in that order,” Dietrich said. “I know [Irvin] was leadoff [in 2013] and that may change. I’m thinking about moving her down a little bit. She’s got the skill to get on base and that’s what we need.”
In the corner outfield positions, Cartersville has speed to help manufacture runs and compliment the middle of the order.
“Offensively, I’m excited about us. we have really good bats and girls that can play the short game very well,” Dietrich said. “At the top, we’re going to have speed, and at the bottom, we’re going to play the small game. We’re looking to fill spots with slappers, girls who can move and have speed.”
The combination of experienced players and young talent has Cartersville players excited over the possibilities of the season.
“I think we’re looking good. We have a lot of good freshmen coming in and then we have a lot of strong upperclassmen,” Yantis said. “I definitely want to make it to the big tournament in Columbus.”
In order to make it to the state quarterfinals in Columbus, Cartersville will have to navigate a significantly more challenging region in Class AAAA than in Class AAA a season ago.
Northwest Whitfield and Heritage-Catoosa played for the state championship in Class AAAA in 2013 and are also in Region 7-AAAA.
Still, the Lady Canes are setting their sights on Columbus.
“We have a lot of goals set. We want to get to the Elite Eight and I feel like this is our year,” Bailey said. “We have a lot of potential.”
“I’m glad we have great goals for ourselves, but we want to play well enough during the year and continue to get better as the year goes on for the Elite Eight, Sweet 16. Take one inning at a time, game by game and just continue to get better as the season goes on,” Dietrich said. “We have the tools. We have the girls to do it. They just have to stay focused, stay committed and keep working hard.”