Cartersville softball rallies late to down Woodland

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The Cartersville softball team had three runners thrown out on the basepaths and it looked destined to be the difference Thursday in an even battle with intracounty foe Woodland at home.

That is until No. 9-hole hitter Mattie Johnson picked up her teammates and sent a bullet down the right-field line. Johnson's clutch triple with one out in the bottom of the sixth tied the game, and Hope Short followed with a first-pitch single to plate the go-ahead run in a thrilling 4-3 victory.

Cartersville head coach Shannon Suarez was pleased with the approaches taken by Johnson and Short against Woodland's Sarah Baynard, who came on with no outs in the inning.

"I was happy with her approach," Suarez said of Johnson. "They were giving us a lot of [space down the foul] line all day, and we really didn't take advantage of it until then. It was very timely hitting on her part, great approach and picking out a pitch she knew she could hit down there. Big congratulations to her. She won the game for us, for sure."

In regards to Short, Suarez added, "I was glad she got in there and had a score 'em mentality. She picked out a pitch she could handle, capitalized and hit it hard by somebody."

Just as they did in a similarly frustrating loss Monday, the Wildcats (1-4) threatened to tie the game or even take the lead in their final at bat after letting the advantage slip away late.

Following consecutive groundouts, Caroline Higdon singled off the glove of Cartersville pitcher Anna Kate McElhaney. Skylar Chappell was hit by a pitch to put the possible go-ahead run on base, but a fielder's choice groundout ended the game.

It was a fitting finish for both sides, as Woodland left 11 runners on base and McElhaney constantly danced out of trouble. The sophomore gave up seven hits and four walks against five strikeouts on 120 pitches in the complete-game effort.

"She's established herself as our ace now, going forward," Suarez said of McElhaney. "What I was probably most pleased with her today was her efficiency. She's been throwing a lot of pitches, and today, I think she probably cut it down by 50 pitches, which is huge going into a big doubleheader. She kept her cool and made pitches when she needed to. She got behind here and there, and we've come to expect that from her. But she's bailed us out and come through when we've needed her the most."

McElhaney helped her cause in the bottom of the first inning with a hard single to left field. The hit advanced Short to third, and Colbi Ballard staked the Canes (3-1) to a 1-0 lead on a single of her own.

Woodland, which heads to Kell on Tuesday, scored the game's next three runs.

Leadoff hitter Bella Carnes singled home Hannah Miller in the top of the second. However, the Wildcats stranded two runners in a sign of things to come.

"I want us to hit by the count," Woodland coach Colman Roberts said of how to improve his team's offense. "We're up there swinging at 2-0 [pitches] like it's 0-2. We talk about it daily. Every hour. Every minute. ... It's crazy. We've got to get better. If we get better at that, I think we'll be pretty good."

He added, "We've got to start finding a way, or we're going to have to start making some changes."

Higdon drove in Ansley Evans, who had a pair of hits, with a sacrifice fly in the third inning. The pair combined for another run in the fifth with Higdon's groundout plating Evans for a 3-1 edge.

The Canes nearly tied the game in the bottom of the fifth. After having a runner caught in a rundown between third and home earlier in the game, Cartersville had the tying-run thrown out at home to end the frame.

With runners at second and third, Presley Edwards dropped a blooper into center field. Ballard scored easily, but an outstanding throw by Morgan Cooper to Chappell nabbed Lauren McElhaney at the dish to keep the score tied.

"I would gamble on her any day of the week," Suarez said of Lauren McElhaney. "She's one of our fastest runners. That girl had to put the ball on the money, and she did so kudos to her. For us to respond and not pack it in, I was pleased."

After escaping yet another jam in the top of the sixth — highlighted by a stellar backhanded catch by third baseman Brooklyn Pittman — Cartersville forced a pitching change when Rylie Harris drew a leadoff walk against Woodland starter Madi Bentley.

"She was over 110 pitches, and it was hot," Roberts said. "I thought that was the best move. She pitched well."

Baynard got a gift when Harris slipped when taking a lead off first base and got picked off by Chappell. Pittman wound up drawing a walk to put the pressure back on before Johnson and Short turned the game around on consecutive pitches.

The victory might not count for anything in the grand scheme of things, considering it was a non-region game when only the region games impact the possibility of making the state tournament. Although, it's always nice to beat a rival.

"It's fun for the girls, the girls enjoy it," Suarez said. "I was glad we were able to come back in the way that we did, get the victory and give us the momentum we need going into a huge doubleheader come Saturday against Troup County. It's always fun playing [Woodland], they're always well-coached and they always give us a good fight. They played a great game, and I'm glad to see we rose up to the occasion, battled back and took it home."