That’s the only word a nearly speechless Cartersville head coach Stuart Chester could use to describe his team Thursday night after its 7-2 Game 3 victory over Callaway in the state quarterfinals at Richard Bell Field.
“These sons of guns right here absolutely have the most guts of any baseball team I’ve ever seen in my life,” Chester said. “Last year we had a three-game series here against Woodward and in ’09 we had a three-game series against Columbus and we were down in both those, but I’m telling you, to go down 2-0 like that, I’m more proud of this year’s group of guys than I am any that I’ve had.”
Cartersville got down early by a score of 2-0 in the top of the first inning when Callaway’s Cody Mimbs launched a deep two-run home run over the left field wall.
A lesser team would have been devastated down two runs, down three pitchers, in the deciding Game 3 of the state quarterfinals with the season on the line.
However, the Cartersville baseball team showed its experience, grit and fortitude to hold Callaway to just two runs in the inning.
Canes starting pitcher Destin Herron had been dealing with a back injury and had pitched just two innings since March 22. He showed his rust early, walking a batter, hitting another, giving up a home run and a single to four of the first five batters he faced. However, Herron settled down and would go on to get out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam to keep the score at 2-0. Herron retired the next six batters he faced.
“Destin hadn’t been healthy and I didn’t know if that [first-inning home run] would shake him up a little bit, but he settled down, threw strikes,” Chester said. “He did exactly what we asked him to do.”
Cartersville gave Herron some run support in the second inning, beginning with a Riley Richards walk and David Darnell single. Mark Quattlebaum then stepped up with two outs in the inning and delivered a base hit through the left side of the infield to draw the Canes within one run.
Quattlebaum went 1-for-2 with a walk in the game and now sports a .500 batting average and .667 on-base percentage in Cartersville’s seven playoff games.
After Quattlebaum, Clifton Dempsey came to the plate and quickly fell behind 0-2 in the count. After taking a ball, Dempsey proceeded to line a double into the left-center field gap to score two more runs and give Cartersville a 3-2 lead.
“I was just looking for something to drive. With two outs and runners on second and third, you’re just trying to make something happen out there,” Dempsey said of the double. “I got down 0-2, so that was tough, but he hung a fastball and I just kind of threw the hands. All year coach Chester’s preached, ‘Know your game. Know your game.’ Obviously, I’m 5-9, 150. I’m not a power guy. So I just try to hit the gaps and listen to the man [Chester]. He knows his stuff for sure, so I just kind of threw my hands on it, and perfect placement, I guess.”
The Canes were back at it in the third inning when, with runners on first and second base with two outs, Darnell knocked a base hit just out of the reach of the charging Callaway center fielder to score Cameron Neal from third base for a 4-2 lead. The lead became 5-2 shortly after when Garrett Rutledge singled in front of the right fielder to score Riley Richards from third.
For the game, Cartersville went 5-for-10 with two walks with runners in scoring position.
Callaway would threaten to have a big inning of its own in the fifth. Herron walked the first two batters of the inning, and with his pitch count over 80 and Cartersville’s pitching staff depleted, Lane Wilson came out of the bullpen after throwing 2 1/3 innings during Tuesday’s Game 2 victory. Wilson allowed an infield single to Callaway’s Austin Garrett to load the bases, but Dempsey was able to keep it in the infield with a diving stop to his right to keep the runner from scoring from second base.
Still Callaway had the bases loaded with no outs and the team’s No. 3 hitter at the plate, Mimbs, who had homered earlier in the game. Mimbs got a hold of another pitch and hit a hard liner that seemed to be destined for the left field grass. It was then that 5-foot-9 Clifton Dempsey climbed the ladder and leaped to his full extension to snare the liner before crashing down to the grass for the out. He immediately got up and threw to Rutledge at third base to record the double play. The third-base runner had gone halfway to home plate believing the ball was uncatchable.
“Off the bat, I was thinking, ‘I don’t know how, but I’ve got to get this ball somehow,’” Dempsey said of the catch. “I had faith in [Quattlebaum] to make a throw to the plate if there was a play to make, but it was just kind of instincts, I guess. I was just jumping and putting a glove up there.”
The catch prevented what could have been a big inning for Callaway and preserved Cartersville’s three-run lead. Wilson would strike out the next batter to end the threat.
“Clifton Dempsey is about in every box score and stat that you can come up with this year,” Chester said of the impact of his shortstop.
Cartersville would then add two insurance runs in the fifth inning when, with the bases loaded and two outs, Brent Arnold came through with a double into the left-center field gap to score Wilson and pinch runner Trent Frazier.
Quattlebaum added to Cartersville’s defensive highlights in the sixth inning. Callaway’s leadoff hitter hit a low liner to left field and Quattlebaum charged using his 4.5 40-yard-dash speed into shallow left field. He fully extended on a dive to backhand snare the baseball just before it hit the grass.
“Quattlebaum is just a pure athlete,” Chester said. “He does things that, sometimes, you can’t coach. With that speed, he makes things happen.”
Wilson would secure the victory in front of a strong defense and a four-run lead, Wilson secured the victory with three shutout innings, allowing just one hit and striking out three.
“Wow,” Chester said of Wilson’s performance. “He pitched some on Tuesday, and to come back tonight, he’s an athlete and he competed. He throws strikes, keeps you off balance and we played good defense behind him.”
Cartersville will advance to the state semifinals Monday for a three-game set at Buford.