Faced with a three-game series against Heritage-Catoosa to decide the fourth and final playoff spot in Region 7-AAAA, the Colonels won the deciding game-three with a late-inning rally on April 24.
Despite Cass’ clutch play in the do-or-die scenario, the state playoffs will officially begin today in Carrollton as Cass will once again try to keep their season alive with another three-game series on the road against the Trojans.
“I think us playing in a three-game series during our sub-region play helps us a lot. It helps our nerves, knowing the third game does matter,” Cass head coach Adam Williams said. “It helps us in those pressure situations to slow the game down, breath and focus at the game one pitch at a time.
“This is not the first time we’ve been in a pressure situation. This is not the first time this team has been in the playoffs. I think the more we play in these type of games, the better we’re going to be in the long run.”
First pitch at Carrollton will be at 5 p.m. with a second game immediately following. If necessary, the third game will be played Saturday.
Carrollton went 17-9 during the regular season and 12-2 during region play. Each of the Trojans’ two losses in Region 5 came against Columbus. Columbus is ranked fourth in Class AAAA, while Alexander is just behind, ranked seventh according to the latest Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll.
Despite Carrollton’s success this season, Williams is not intimidated by the Trojans.
“We haven’t really heard, of the people we talk to, that they absolutely crush the ball, but we hear they’re clutch. They do a good job of getting the big hit when they need it,” Williams said of his team’s first-round opponent. “We haven’t heard they’ve got an 85-plus [pitcher]. They just have kids who go up, compete and throw a lot of strikes.”
Of those pitchers who go after the strikezone and compete, Tucker Reynolds and Cooper Criswell will each likely start a game in the series. Neither one is a strikeout artist. Reynolds has just six in his last three outings, 16 1/3 innings pitched. However, he has allowed just six runs in that period against three of the top teams in Region 5. Criswell is much the same. In his last three outings, 11 innings, he has allowed four earned runs and struck out six.
Carrollton does have a talented reliever in Brandon Pedigo. In his last six innings of work, Pedigo has allowed two earned runs on three hits to go along with seven strikeouts.
Overall, opponents are averaging 2.8 runs per game against Carrollton’s staff.
“On the mound, they’re very competitive,” Williams said. “We just have to come and be ready to hit anything thrown. We have to be able to compete, ourselves,”
At the plate, Carrollton does not have one primary run producer, but relies on small-ball to manufacture runs and has a knack for the timely hit.
“What we have to do is keep them from the position where they have to have a clutch hit,” Williams said. “They are a very well-coached baseball team. They do a good job of finding ways to get on base. When they get on base, they do a good job of trying to move up and steal bases, so we have to do a good job of being able to hold runners and make sure we vary our times to the plate, look to first and second to hold runners.”
To counter Carrollton’s offense, the Colonels have had a strong pitching staff all season long, but particularly since senior Brandon Etheridge has returned to the diamond. Etheridge has pitched 24 innings on the year and owns a 2.33 earned run average to go along with 32 strikeouts.
Ben Kapito also will likely start for Cass and has a 2.21 ERA in 31 2/3 innings with 39 strikeouts. Noah Sims has a penchant for the strikeout, as well, and leads the team with 44 in 32 innings pitched.
In the three game-series against Heritage-Catoosa, Cass allowed just two runs in the first game and three runs in each of the final two.
Bradley Hood and Chris Hill have been the stalwarts in the bullpen, particularly the submariner Hill, who owns a 1.67 ERA on the season.
“From our Heritage series, I feel very good about our pitching staff,” Williams said. “Our pitching staff has matured as the season’s gone along and they’re throwing strikes.”
Williams said his team has had a good week of practice and is well-prepared for today’s game.
“Our motto this week in practice has been, ‘Have a really good week of practice this week to make sure we’re practicing next week,’” Williams said. “We didn’t really talk about Carrollton much. We just focused on us and worked on things we have to work on, so I think our kids are ready and focused.”