It’s not the state tournament or region season, but the Perfect Game High School Showdown at LakePoint has become one of the biggest events for the Cartersville High baseball team in recent years.
The tournament annually attracts some of the best high school teams in the country, along with top MLB draft prospects.
The Canes fit in well with the elite field, as they are ranked No. 33 in Perfect Game’s national high school baseball rankings, and boast two likely draft picks in 2018 with Anthony Seigler and Devin Warner.
“Obviously, it’s a very big deal,” Cartersville head coach Kyle Tucker said of the tournament. “Everybody that’s in it is in it for a reason. We’re just fortunate to have some good players and get an invitation to play in it.
“Every game is intense. It’s going to swing on a couple of plays — can you make a big pitch when they have people on base and can you get a big hit when you have people in place. That’s what these games come down to.”
First pitch will be at 3:30 p.m. today, and Cartersville will take the field in the first round of the single-elimination tournament at 6 p.m. against Seminary from Mississippi.
Cartersville first played in the tournament in 2013 in Fort Myers, Florida, and then after one year off, have participated the last three years at LakePoint.
The Canes’ best performance was in 2016, when they went 3-1. Overall, Cartersville has an 8-9 record in the four tournaments its played in and has never made it past the second round of the winner’s bracket.
The tournament guarantees four games, with the championship culminating the event on Saturday.
Of the 26 teams invited, longtime Cartersville head coach Stuart Chester and the Buford Wolves are in the field. Buford is on the other side of the bracket, though, and the two teams are unlikely to face each other unless each make a run to the championship game.
Cartersville would have to win its first four games to reach the championship.
Making it that far in this tournament is no easy task. Besides Cartersville, four other teams ranked among Perfect Game’s top 50 teams in the country have accepted invitations. Parkview, ranked No. 2 in the nation, is the top team, but North Gwinnett (11), Loganville (28) and North Broward Prep (43) are all nationally ranked.
Most of the teams, which come from states Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Georgia, have at least one top 100 prospect in their class and someone who is on draft radars.
“When you’re bringing teams from all those states, you’re going to have prospects, guys committed to big schools,” Tucker said. “Every team is going to have power arms, great hitters. Your margin for error is very thin in this tournament. We’re excited about it. We’ve practiced well all week. We’re going to go out there and compete and see how we do.”
Among the marquee talent playing in Emerson will be Brookwood’s Will Banfield who, along with Cartersville’s Seigler, make up the top two catcher prospects in the Class of 2018. Banfield is ranked sixth in the 2018 class by Perfect Game, while Seigler is 13th.
Montverde Academy shortstop Nander De Sedas is the highest-ranked player at the event, ranked as the No. 3 player in the senior class.
The junior class will also be well-represented, with Blessed Trinity shortstop C.J. Abrams checking in as the No. 14 prospect in his class, and Providence infielder Tyler Callihan checking in at No. 20.
“I’m sure it’ll be full of scouts throughout the weekend,” Tucker said. “It doesn’t matter who you play, every team will have someone the scouts are looking at.”
Blessed Trinity is ranked No. 1 in Georgia’s Class 4A this week, and Cartersville is ranked No. 2. The two teams are on opposite sides of the bracket.
Providence High, from Florida, is on Cartersville’s side and was the team that eliminated the Canes in the 2017 PG HS Showdown and went on to beat Blessed Trinity in the tournament’s championship.
Also in this year’s field is Troup County, considered to be Cartersville’s top rival for the Region 5-AAAA championship.
The winner of the Cartersville-Seminary game today at 6 p.m. on Field 10 will go on to face the winner of the Grayson-College Station game on Friday at 3:30 p.m.
Today’s starting pitcher for Cartersville will be Auburn commit Mason Barnett, who is a top-100 prospect in the junior class. Barnett also has been Cartersville’s top hitter so far this season, and is 7-of-his-last-14 at the plate while batting third in the Canes’ lineup.
Senior Georgia Highlands commit Levi Ayers leads the team with four wins on the mound, while Gage Morris has pitched a combined 8 2/3 innings in his last three outings, allowing no earned runs or walks.
However, for Tucker and the 8-3 Canes, getting the bats to match the team’s performance on the mound is the challenge at hand heading into the weekend.
Cartersville has allowed less than three runs per game so far this year, but has scored only about 4.5, relying predominantly on the big inning.
The Canes are certainly hot heading into the PG High School Showdown, though, having won their last three and six of their last seven.