The Cartersville baseball team had two runners in scoring position, trailing by one run in the seventh inning with one out in Game 1 of the Class 4A state quarterfinals at Buford Tuesday.
However, the Canes stranded the runners with two strikeouts and could not keep up with the potent Buford offense in Game 2 of the series as the Wolves swept Cartersville to move on to the semifinals.
In each game, Buford scored in the first inning and led the entire way from start to finish. Still, the resilient Canes answered almost every big inning for Buford, but ran out of rallies in the end.Buford won by scores of 6-5 and 10-3 and will advance to play the winner of Game 3 in the series between Eastside and St. Pius.
“They have some talent,” Cartersville head coach Stuart Chester said of Buford, “but I promise you this. Our kids have guts and they compete and they carry themselves in a manner that the city of Cartersville can be proud.”
Cartersville, meanwhile, finishes the season 19-13.
“We had great senior leadership. They battled and fought for us for four years,” Chester said. “We do have a lot of youth. I think the future of baseball at Cartersville is bright. To end with a freshman on the mound like we did [Mason Barnett], I think that he’s going to be special. We have so much young talent on JV and freshman. That’s why we pulled up so many. We wanted them to have the opportunity to see Elliott [Anderson] and Carrington [Evans] and Parker [Tidwell] and people like that to see how they get after it and see how they carry themselves. So don’t count us out.”
Cartersville trailed 1-0 after one inning, 4-1 after three and 6-3 after six innings in Game 1. Each time Cartersville went down, though, it made a run to come back and narrow Buford’s lead.
Cartersville’s final rally came in the top of the seventh inning when Cartersville scored two runs to make the score 6-5 after Elliott Anderson was hit by a pitch, Carrington Evans singled with one out and Devin Warner scored Anderson with a single. Parker Tidwell then hit his second RBI single of the game to narrow Buford’s lead to one run. Warner advanced to third base on Tidwell’s single and Tidwell stole second base, putting the lead run in scoring position. But two strikeouts by Georgia Tech commit Austin Wilhite ended the threat and sealed the win for the Wolves.
“Our first game was a game of opportunities,” Chester said. “We had two or three opportunities and we didn’t get it. And then, we had an opportunity to stop them there a couple of times and they’d roll over one and it’d get through.”
Bases on balls hurt the Canes in Game 1 as starter Elliott Anderson walked nine. The first three came in the bottom of the first inning and allowed a run to score on an RBI groundout by Georgia-bound Buford starting pitcher Justin Glover.
“Elliott was not sharp on the mound today, but I’ll tell you right now, the sucker competed and he did enough to win. Last inning, you have runners on second and third and have an opportunity to go up,” Chester said. “But for him to struggle on the mound and yet keep us in the ballgame just speaks to the guts that that guy’s got.”
Anderson went 3-for-3 with a hit by pitch and a double in Game 1. He finished the season batting .427 with a .592 on-base percentage and went 16-for-his-last-31 with nine extra-base hits in his last nine games.
His double in the third inning would eventually tie the game at 1 when courtesy runner Seth Smith advanced to third base on a wild pitch and scored when Anthony Seigler hit the ball to right field with one out to drive Smith home even though Seigler was thrown out at first base on the play.
In the bottom of the third, consecutive singles by twins Austin and Nick Wilhite, an RBI double by Georgia Tech commit Griffin Joliff and an RBI single by Glover scored three runs to make Buford’s lead 4-1.
The Canes once again came back, though, scoring two runs in the fifth. Jacob Fowler led off with a perfectly executed bunt single, followed by a single from Anderson and a sacrifice fly by Seigler. Parker Tidwell’s RBI single then made the score 4-3.
Buford came right back in the sixth with two runs on another RBI double by Joliff, which would prove to be the difference after Cartersville’s seventh-inning comeback attempt.
“When two programs get together like this right here, it’s really just a game of opportunities and the ball bouncing a certain way can give someone an advantage or take advantage,” Chester said. “I’m not taking anything away from them but we had some opportunities, and to beat them you have to go three games. We were close.”
Buford once again got out to an early lead in the first inning of Game 2, scoring three runs on a three-run home run by Joliff, who had two home runs and seven RBIs in the series after driving in nine runs during Buford’s second-round series.
Seigler pitched to two batters right-handed during the first inning as he had his six-finger glove out with him. After the first inning, he pitched the rest of the game left-handed.
“He felt good going both sides,” Chester said of the strategy with Seigler in the first inning. “We thought, at some point in time, that’s an advantage for them not to know. Then it got to the point where he looked so good left-handed, we just let him go left-handed.”
Buford scored another run in the second on an RBI double by Kennesaw State commit Brandon Marsh.
Cartersville would once again come back with two runs in the second inning on an RBI single by Jacob Fowler and a wild pitch. In the third inning, Devin Warner hit his second home run in the last two series to cut Buford’s lead to 4-3 after three.
However, Buford scored five in the fourth inning to put the game away, highlighted by a three-run triple by Austin Wilhite and an RBI double by Nick Wilhite.
Joliff would tack on one more run with his sixth-inning homer.
“You get behind in the count and he swings the bat with a hitter’s count,” Chester said of Joliff’s home runs. “We just got behind and you have to keep hitters off stride.”
The top five hitters in Buford’s lineup, all Division I signees - Marsh, the Wilhite twins, Joliff and Glover - combined to go 16-for-33 in the series and drive in 14 of Buford’s 16 runs in the two games.
Cartersville tried for one last comeback attempt at the end, taking seven hard-hit balls to the outfield in the game, only to have them tracked down by the speed of Nick Wilhite and Marsh.
“They can be gamechangers defensively,” Chester said of Wilhite and Marsh. “They control the running game and they control you getting on base. You hit the ball in the gap and it’s hard to burn them.”