There were few positives to take away from how the Cartersville softball team performed on the field Thursday at home against Central-Carroll. The offense, again, was stagnant; the defense, again, made some costly mistakes; and the pitching, again, failed to consistently find the strike zone.
When it was all said and done, Cartersville had fallen 7-2 to Central in the Canes' final Region 5-AAAA home game of the season. It also came with the caveat that head coach Shannon Suarez was suspended for the game after being ejected in Cartersville's previous game at Cedartown.
With its head coach absent, which sometimes inspires teams to step up, and decked out in special uniforms for the team's annual Pink Out game, Cartersville still fell into its recent habit. Unfortunately for the Canes, that recent habit involves struggling across the board, as evidenced by the team's 2-7 mark since its most recent region win.
Central, which sits second in the region standings, opened the scoring with a run in the top of the first. A couple of walks and an error in the second inning allowed the Lions to extend their lead to 4-0.
Anna Kate McElhaney settled in a bit from there. She gave up single runs in each of the final three frames, but the sophomore avoided another big inning to keep her team close. Overall, she allowed four earned runs on seven hits and five walks with no strikeouts in a complete-game effort.
The Canes (7-9, 3-5) only managed four hits in the game. Three of those came in the sixth inning when Cartersville managed both of its runs to pull within 6-2.
Cio Seigler led off with a single. She scored on a double by McElhaney. However, a base-running mistake led to McElhaney getting tagged out between second and third.
Colbi Ballard helped extend the inning, reaching on a hard-hit ball to shortstop. Like Seigler, she scored from first on a McElhaney double to the gap — this one off the bat of Lauren, who also singled earlier in the game.
The lone offensive outburst couldn't help the Canes overcome an otherwise solid showing by Lions starter Shirley Sharp.
"Today, we were up against a good team — a top-two team in the region — so we knew we were going to have to play our best to stay in the game with them," Suarez said during a phone interview Thursday evening. "Early on, we did. Anna Kate did what she was capable of doing, and she held us there through the first four or five innings. ... In my book, I think she did a good job. I think she did the best job she could do for our team.
"Offensively, we're struggling. Three or four girls hitting is not enough. We're not getting enough production from the bottom of the lineup. It shows, because a lot of girls are getting left on base."
The only good things for Cartersville that came out of Thursday were the region results elsewhere. In the other two contests, teams that are battling with the Canes in the standings both lost — Cedartown to LaGrange and Troup County to Sandy Creek.
The results keep Cartersville in fifth place behind Cedartown on a tiebreaker and a game ahead of Troup. The top six teams in the seven-team region make the region tournament with four teams moving on to state.
Cartersville will look to improve its place in the region standings next Thursday with a trip to last-place Sandy Creek. It offers the Canes a chance to turn the tide before a tough season-ending region stretch, featuring a game at first-place Chapel Hill and a road doubleheader at third-place LaGrange.
"You look at our remaining schedule, and we still have four region games left that are huge for us," Suarez said. "... It all starts in practice with trying to keep the morale up, keeping them focused and working on things that need to be fixed. Hopefully, it's reflecting in games. ...
"I'm glad we have the games left, and we're still in position to finish in the top four, where we can host in the first round [of the region tournament] and hopefully get through to state."