Semifinal Playoff Notebook

Sophomore Davis continues to come up clutch

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Cartersville second baseman Josh Davis refuses to give his head coach, Kyle Tucker, a hug at school. He won't even extend his hand for a high-five.

Those signs of affection are saved for special occasions, specifically after Cartersville victories. The Canes' doubleheader sweep of Heritage on Tuesday earned Tucker a huge bearhug.

The pair hope to reenact the moment Monday at State Mutual Stadium in Rome when Cartersville faces Jefferson in the Class 4A state championship series, beginning at 5 p.m.

If another big hug is in the cards, there's a good chance Davis will be a factor in getting the Canes past the Dragons. Despite being the lone sophomore in a veteran lineup, Davis has proven to be one of the most clutch players on the roster.

On Tuesday, he singled home Anthony Seigler for the eventual-game-winning run off possible first-round draft pick Cole Wilcox in Game 1. That came after Wilcox retired him in each of his first three at bats in the 6-5 victory.

Davis came back in Game 2 and hit a game-tying solo homer immediately after Seigler went deep. His next time up, Tucker asked him to put down a sacrifice bunt after Heritage intentionally walked Seigler with the score at 2-2. Davis succeeded, and the Canes wound up with a five-run inning to blow open the game.

Tucker made sure to point out the significance of Davis' sac bunt after the game. He didn't want the key moment to get lost in what turned into a 10-2 win.

Given that he serves as protection behind Seigler, Davis occupies a premium position in the Cartersville lineup. Every team in the postseason has elected to intentionally walk Seigler at one point or another.

Jefferson should know if it takes the same route, Davis can beat them with a sharp single, a home run or a bunt. His versatility at the plate and his increasingly flawless play at second base have helped lift Cartersville into the state finals.

"We wouldn't be where we are without any of them, but, obviously, we wouldn't be where we are without him," Tucker said of Davis. "He's had a great year, a great sophomore season. He's really come into his own at second base, plays a good defensive second base. ... I have a lot of confidence in Josh at the plate, and he's come through time and time again. I'm really happy for him."

SPECIAL BOND — After a vast majority of the fans and players had left Richard Bell Field on Tuesday night, Seigler and Wilcox met near the mound.

Wilcox received hugs from Seigler and each of Seigler's parents before posing for pictures.

The moment, coming after a hard-fought semifinal series that ended Wilcox's high school career, showed just how much mutual respect the two superstars have for each other. In a way, it's unsurprising given the pair played together on the USA Baseball 18U team that won the gold medal during the 2017 World Baseball Softball Confederation World Cup in September. 

Both players are projected to be taken on Day 1 of the MLB draft, which begins June 4. It's possible both could get taken in the first round.

Seigler, though, got the better of Wilcox on Tuesday.

"It was awesome," Seigler said. "We've been joking around just to see who's going to get best of one another. It was cool just to come out here, have fun and play against him.

"The love for him doesn't change at all. He still loves me; I still love him."

Against Wilcox, Seigler finished 3-for-4 with two doubles, the game-tying RBI and the go-ahead run scored. Wilcox finished 3-for-6 overall Tuesday with a walk and two RBIs, but Seigler struck him out to end Game 1.

While it's easy for Tucker to say after having his individual player and his team come out on top, he thought it was great to see two players of their caliber battling it out.

"They're both competitors," Tucker said. "They were talking to each other, and it was nothing bad. They won a gold medal together, so how can they not be friends. But you go back to your hometown, you go back to your school team and there's some pride there.

"Baseball is a team sport, obviously, but often times there are one-on-one matchups. They actually faced each other as hitters and faced each other as pitchers. Both great players and both have great futures."

JAKE THE SNAKE — When first baseman Jake Gooch gets a cut, he bleeds purple. That might be an urban legend, but it wouldn't be a stretch given Gooch seems to have Cartersville baseball coursing through his veins.

The fact that Gooch is even still playing for the Canes after suffering an elbow injury against Marist in the second round is a testament to his desire.

He tweaked his swing to allow him to remain a threat at the plate. Gooch has even managed to labor through two games at first base.

His first-inning, two-run home run off Wilcox Tuesday galvanized the Canes in Game 1. He later had a run-scoring triple that forced Heritage to pull Game 2 starter Tripp Church in the sixth inning.

Gooch is one of 10 seniors on the team, according to Tucker. He won't get to play at Richard Bell Field again, but he made sure to make the most of his final home series.

"They don't play on this field anymore, but what a way to go out to sweep a great team," Tucker said of the senior class. "They're going to get on a bus to go to Rome and play in the state championship next week. It's pretty cool."

SEMIFINAL UPSET — While few pundits around Georgia will be shocked to see Cartersville in the state championship series, there were plenty stunned by Jefferson knocking off Blessed Trinity in the semis.

Facing the No. 1 team in the country, according to Baseball America, the Dragons swept the Titans by final scores of 10-7 and 2-0 on the road Tuesday. 

Jefferson (26-11) needed three games to get past Chestatee in the first round and Woodward Academy in the quarterfinals, while narrowly defeating Northwest Whitfield twice in the second round.

The Dragons finished 11-4 in Region 8-AAAA and only received the region's No. 1 seed on a head-to-head tiebreaker with North Oconee.

As of Wednesday night, MaxPreps had Jefferson ranked No. 30 in the state and Cartersville at No. 12. Nationally, the difference is even starker with the Dragons checking in at 593rd and the Canes at 187th.

Historically speaking, Cartersville should be considered favorites in next week's series. The Canes will be seeking their seventh state title — all of which have come this century. Meanwhile, the Dragons will be aiming for their first state championship.

However, considering what Jefferson just did to the team MaxPreps had first in Georgia and third nationally, Cartersville certainly is in no position to underestimate the Dragons.