Canes force a third game
by Chike Nwakamma
May 09, 2013 | 1424 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Connor Justus watches the ball after it leaves his bat in a second-round game during the AAA state playoffs in Cartersville Wednesday. 
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Connor Justus watches the ball after it leaves his bat in a second-round game during the AAA state playoffs in Cartersville Wednesday. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
While it may not have been what they expected, the Cartersville Purple Hurricanes handled a deficit in their best-of-three, AAA second-round series as well as their coach could have hoped. As a result, the Canes play a winner-take-all Game 3 today at Richard Bell Field for a chance to play in the Elite 8 next week.

Cartersville erased the bad taste from an earlier 4-1 loss and held on to beat visiting Woodward Academy in extra innings, 7-3, in the nightcap.

“It’s called a playoff series. It takes intestinal fortitude,” said Canes coach Stuart Chester. “We always talk about it’s going to get worse before it gets better and our guys have been seasoned, and they did a great job bouncing back.”

Chester’s team sure showed it, getting ahead 2-0 in the top of the third inning — Cartersville played as the visitor in Game 2 — when Tripp Jamieson hit an Infield single with the bases loaded to score Beau Benefield. Next up to bat was Austin Adams, who took his base after being hit by a pitch.

The War Eagles trimmed the lead in half in the fourth, scoring a run on a passed ball. Equal to the task, the Canes bumped the lead back to two with Connor Justus hitting an RBI single to center field that scored pinch runner Mark Quattlebaum.

Cartersville’s two-run lead again failed to hold up, but this time Woodward Academy rallied all the way back, starting with Wilson Morgan’s leadoff home run in the sixth. A few batters later, Richard Jackson — who had three hits and five RBIs on the day — delivered the game-tying hit, a double to left field to score Zach Wingate.

After going down in order in the seventh, the Canes faced the real possibility of watching a walkoff hit, or walk, on their home field. Corey Hicks’ one-out double to right, and a subsequent error, gave the War Eagles an opportunity to pull off the upset as Hicks stood on second after everything subsided.

Justus, who pitched seven innings and struck out seven, bowed his back and kept Woodward Academy from notching another hit in the inning. Chester sensed his that his veteran player, a four-year starter, was ready for such a moment.

“After we lost the first game, he came by me and said, ‘Coach, am I getting the ball this game?’ And, I said, ‘Of course,’” Chester acknowledged.

The decision paid off as Cartersville pushed into extra innings with the War Eagles, where reliever Garrett Rutledge took the ball. Rutledge registered three strikeouts in two innings, and he got a boost from the defense in the eighth when Ty Fowler threw out a Woodward Academy base runner to end the inning.

In the top of the ninth, the Canes put the ball in play — and the pressure on the War Eagles. Though they missed on a couple of sacrifice bunt attempts earlier, the Canes capitalized when it mattered most.

“It was huge. We hadn’t executed all daylong, but that was absolutely huge, to do that and put pressure on them and let them make the mistake,” Chester added.

Fowler was hit by a pitch to start off the ninth, and Benefield’s fielder’s choice forced a wild throw by Woodward Academy reliever Chris Turner, who tried to get the lead runner at second.

With his throw sailing into center, the War Eagles compounded the initial mistake as the ball got by the outfielder. Fowler scored the go-ahead run for a 4-3 lead, and Benefield reached third.

An initial balk on Turner nearly gave the Canes a two-run lead, but the umpire appeared to rule that time had been called. Turner wouldn’t be so lucky on his next balk, which put the hosts up 5-3.

Jamieson’s RBI single to left later in the inning made it 6-3, and a wild pitch from another Woodward Academy reliever, Michael Livingston, provided the final margin.

Offensively, Cartersville got hits from Justus, 1 for 4 (RBI); Jamieson, 3 for 5 (two RBIs); Adams, 1 for 3 (double, hit by a pitch, walk, RBI); Drew Lawson, 1 for 4 (walk); Rutledge, 1 for 4; and, Benefield, 1 for 3 (double).

Chester noted that getting an early lead helped his team in the nightcap.

“It gives you an opportunity to … at least take your breath … Your back’s still against the wall, but you can do some different things,” he said.

In Game 1, the Canes trailed early on and could never get going.

Following consecutive innings where they threatened to score — the fourth and fifth — the Cartersville eventually broke through in the bottom of the seventh, with Fowler digging deep for a home run to left field.

By that time, though, Cartersville trailed 4-1 and needed just a little more offense to prevent visiting Woodward Academy from stealing Game 1.

The Canes nearly got that much-needed offensive jolt as Rutledge, a pinch-hitter, came behind Fowler to smack a single to right field.

Unfortunately for the hosts, the War Eagles’ defense halted any potential rally with another game-changing play as right fielder Michael Livingston dove headfirst on a ball hit by Justus. In nearly the same spot where Rutledge had just stroked a hit, Livingston denied Cartersville back-to-back hits — and almost doubled up Rutledge at first base to end the game.

Jackson, Woodward Academy’s Game 1 starter, closed things out a batter later with a game-ending groundout.

Jackson, who earned the win with five strikeouts in his complete-game effort, stifled the Canes offensively at times, but he also greatly aided his own cause, providing all of the War Eagles’ offense.

Woodward Academy’s Wingate singled to center in the top of the second — reaching second base after the ball got by the outfielder — and later touched third on a sacrifice.

Jackson then broke a scoreless tie with a two-run homer. He later added to the lead with another two-RBI hit.

Cartersville had chances to cut into its deficit, in the fourth as well as the fifth. Jamieson and Adams reached base to start the fourth — on a single and double, respectively — but the Canes failed to move them over, ending the inning with three straight outs.

The fifth inning saw an even closer scoring chance fail to materialize when Justus, charging hard from second after Jamieson’s single, was thrown out at home plate by the War Eagles’ center fielder.

“I’ve seen days like this before and this is a day where baseball will beat you,” said Chester, after his team had overcome its loss to force a decisive third game. “We hit the ball hard, right at ’em. They made some good plays. They made good pitches when they had to, and we just could not get a break. We couldn’t create a break. … [My team’s] guts … helped us pull through that second game.”

The Cartersville skipper hopes his team can benefit from facing a crucial situation so early in the second round.

“It’s a whole different day; everybody’s going home … and resting. However, to win Game 2 kind of gives us some momentum, and hopefully we can pick up where we left off,” Chester said.

The Canes face Woodward Academy at 4 p.m. today, with the winner moving on to play either Dodge County or Callaway.