Georgia’s bright sunshine they practiced under was in stark contrast to the cold, severe weather conditions that greeted the Canes back in late February on opening day of the 2012-2013 season.
The Canes lost to South Forsyth, 6-2, that day, and then to Marist, 6-0, four days later. An 11-3 win over Lassiter was soon followed by a 10-7 loss to perennial baseball powerhouse, Parkview. South Forsyth, Lassiter and Parkview were all 6-A schools; Marist, a 4-A school.
The Canes were 1-3 at that juncture with 22 games left to play. But over the course of the next two months, they went a combined 19-3 overall, won the 5-AAA region championship with a perfect 14-0 record, and clinched a berth in the Class AAA state playoffs.
“To be at your best come April and May, you want to play against the best competition,” said coach Stuart Chester, while his players enjoyed a short water break. “My intentions are always to have our team playing in late April and in May. That’s been my philosophy since my second year of coaching here. This season was no exception.”
Except for one major exception to Chester’s etched-in-stone philosophy that may very well become the major reason for the Canes much anticipated success during this year’s state playoffs. Cartersville’s quest for a sixth state title begins today when they host Morgan County. Game 1 is scheduled for a 2 p.m. start.
For the first time in his 17 years of coaching baseball at Cartersville, Chester decided it was time for his team to venture outside the city limits during spring break.
The Canes (20-6, 14-0) were on a roll, having won 11 straight when they boarded a chartered bus hours after trouncing Gordon Central at home and traveled south to Fort Myers, Fla., site of Perfect Game’s three-day High School Showdown.
Cartersville was one of four teams from Georgia invited to the prestigious tournament. Waiting for them were four of the best high school baseball teams Florida had to offer. After three days of intense competition, the Canes arrived back home late Sunday evening having won one and losing three straight.
“We played against some very good teams,” said Hayes Linn, who would later be named the tournament’s most valuable pitcher for his dominating pitching performance that included 13 strikeouts. “We would have liked to have done better, but, in the long run, we grew closer as a team. I know, for myself, my confidence soared during that tournament. I knew what I was capable of accomplishing the remainder of the season.”
“Our team chemistry also improved, as well as our camaraderie,” added Connor Justus, who as a senior, has provided the leadership along with Linn, Ty Fowler and Austin Adams. Fowler and Adams recently signed baseball scholarships with Georgia Highlands College.
Since the Canes’ Florida excursion, they have won seven straight. One of which was a 5-3 hard-fought victory over Ringgold, the 2012 Region 5-AAA champion and state runner-up. Cartersville reached the 20-win plateau with its 16-0 victory over Gordon Central.
“By the way we have been playing, you would have thought we were still fighting for a playoff spot,” Chester said. “Give our players credit for maintaining their focus from game one until the final game of the regular season. Now, it’s time to prepare for a team that is scrappy, well-coached and will be coming to our place with the intention of beating us.”
Morgan County heads to Cartersville with a 13-13 overall record, 7-7 in Region 8A-AAA, and having lost three straight.
In another state AAA playoff game involving a team from Bartow County, Adairsville travels to North Oconee today for a scheduled doubleheader that begins at 3 p.m. Game 3, if necessary, will be played Saturday. The Tigers enter the state playoffs 11-13 overall, 7-6 in Region 5B-AAA. The Titans are 18-8 overall, 12-2 in region 8A-AAA.