Rain can often put a damper on a person's spirits, but a Wednesday afternoon storm that blew through Bartow County seemed to relax the Cartersville softball team.
Following a roughly 90-minute delay, the Canes put together one of their best performances of the young season in a 4-1 victory over visiting Adairsville.
"This is the best I've seen my team come out and play this year," Cartersville head coach Shannon Suarez said. "[The delay] worked out for us. You never know what you're going to get after a long delay like that, sitting around and just hanging out. Not knowing if we're going to play or not going to play, and then being able to flip that switch, when the time comes. Real proud of them. We looked real good tonight."
For a few innings, though, it looked as if the Canes (2-2) might fall into a familiar routine.
Cartersville had two runners on base with one out in the first inning, but Adairsville starting pitcher Victoria O'Neal responded with consecutive strikeouts. The Canes loaded the bases with no outs in the second. Again, O'Neal answered with back-to-back punchouts before left fielder Taylor Rhoades made a sensational sliding catch to keep the game scoreless.
Adairsville (1-3) had its first two players reach on walks to begin the third inning, prompting Suarez to make a pitching change. Starter Ava Perkins had been throwing the ball well, but the freshman was called for 20 illegal pitches, which greatly hampered her.
"You want to keep your team in the game, so I let her go as long as I felt she could go, where we still had a chance to win the game still," Suarez said of replacing Perkins. "I hate it for her. I thought she looked really good tonight. They didn't really give her much of a chance, though. We were able to overcome it, which I was glad."
A lot of the credit for that goes to Kiley Arnold. Another freshman, Arnold allowed a single to O'Neal later in the third, and a fielding error on the play allowed Alexa Varner to score the game's first run. Other than that, she was sharp.
It seemed to take the Tigers breaking the deadlock for the Canes to finally step up at the plate.
McKinley Chada drew a one-out walk in the home half of the third. Cio Seigler reached on an error. With both runners in scoring position, Anna Kate McElhaney ripped a two-run single to give Cartersville the lead.
An inning later, Chada singled home a pair of runs with two outs. The freshman, who also has seen significant time in the circle this season, sent a liner to left, scoring Hope Short and Lauren McElhaney after the pair of seniors had singled earlier in the frame.
"We've been struggling with timely hitting, for sure, leaving a lot of girls on the past four games," Suarez said. "To see Anna Kate and McKinley come through was huge. It's something we've been waiting for. We know we have the hitters, we know we have the talent. ... To see them break the ice and begin leading us in the right direction is huge."
Perkins finished with five walks and three strikeouts over two-plus innings. Arnold struck out four with no walks and three hits allowed.
"They're finding their strides; they're figuring it out," Suarez said of her trio of freshman pitchers. "It's a big jump. It's hard coming off the middle school team. These girls are big-time ballplayers. They weren't going to get away with what they did at the middle school level. It took some adjusting, and I expected that. ... To see them continue working and having a positive attitude is huge."
Lauren McElhaney led the Cartersville offense, finishing 3-for-4 with a triple and a run scored; Anna Kate McElhaney had a double, a single and two RBIs; and Chada went 1-for-2 with a walk, a run scored and two RBIs.
O'Neal had two of Adairsville's three hits. Kyleigh Linn had the other. Chloe Souders drew walks in both of her plate appearances.
It was far from the performance Adairsville head coach Amanda Nelson would have envisioned, especially with the team's Region 6-AAA opener scheduled against North Murray at 5:30 p.m. today at home.
"To believe in theirselves and to change their mindset," Nelson said of the postgame message to the team. "Don't be complacent. We've got to come out and light a fire, we've got to compete and we've got to have that drive, mentally."
O'Neal and Rhoades each threw three innings and allowed two runs apiece in the circle. The juniors allowed seven hits against nine strikeouts and two walks. However, the defense committed four errors, leading to three unearned runs.
"I thought our pitcher's threw well," Nelson said. "Our defense has got to make the plays behind them. The girls were hitting their spots, and Cartersville did a great job on their at-bats and their approach against us. We expect them to put it in play. We've got to have the defense to back it.
"We really made our foundation on our defense, that has been our focus. We're four games in now, and it's still shaky. The girls have to get that mindset, bear down and be confident in that defensive game."
Perhaps, the delay negatively impacted the Tigers. Staying focused isn't easy during a thunderstorm that seemed likely, at the time, to force a second postponement after the game was originally scheduled for Aug. 2.
"Any time there's a change in routine, you're taking the chance of being thrown off," Nelson said. "That's no excuse, though. The girls should have been back out here and refocused. It's adversity, and they should fight through that."
Cartersville did that Wednesday, and it gave the Canes a chance to put a rough 12-1 loss to Central, Carroll Tuesday quickly behind them. The victory also gives Cartersville momentum entering today's clash with another county rival in Woodland ahead of Saturday's key Region 5-AAAA doubleheader at Troup County.
"Coming off last night's defeat, that was rough for us," Suarez said. "To come back out here and being able to get this game in was huge for us. ... I'm glad to have this win under our belts, and I expect the same [today] at Woodland and lead us into Saturday."
If either of those days includes another rain delay, Suarez probably wouldn't complain.
"Especially how we performed tonight," she said, "I'll take it any day of the week."