Todd, Poston help Lady Canes advance to second round

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Hannah Todd threw 12 shutout innings, Paris Poston anchored the offense and the Cartersville Lady Canes clinched a spot in the Sweet 16 Wednesday by going on the road and sweeping Chestatee in a doubleheader, 4-0 and 8-0 (five innings).

“It’s huge. … We rely on her so much, you know,” coach Shannon Dietrich said about her ace. “Even without the strikeouts she’s forcing groundballs, the defense is working behind her. Everything was on point tonight, it was really nice to see her come out and she got into it early and made a statement that these girls weren’t going to hit her.”

Todd surrendered just five hits over both games while striking out 16, and Poston went 4-for-6 with two doubles, a triple, three runs and two RBIs.

The first game was much the closer of the two. While Todd threw a two-hitter and didn’t let a runner reach base after the third, the Cartersville offense struggled to break out.

Leadoff hitter Molly Wilson singled in the first and scored on a delayed steal of home.

A two-out rally in the third doubled the lead to 2-0. Poston tripled, Todd walked and Tara Mathis’ single brought the run home.

While two runs were more than enough for Todd, the Lady Canes struggled to get any breathing room until the fifth, when Colbi Ballard went down two strikes but battled back with a single that scored Poston and Todd’s courtesy runner Macee Cole.

“It was huge, especially because she was down in the count,” Dietrich said about Ballard, who has forced her way into the lineup late in the season. “She had just had an at bat that wasn’t great, she chased a couple of pitches out of the zone, and I really asked her to refocus and get the job done and she came through for us again.”

From there, it was easy for Todd, as she cruised through the last three innings, with a sliding catch by Wilson in center recording the final out.

Cartersville’s ace finished the first game with 12 strikeouts and just three baserunners allowed.

“She was excellent,” Dietrich said. “She got ahead of batters and was very efficient in the first game. She threw about 80 pitches and it was an easy decision to put her right back out there the second game.”

On the offensive side, Poston had two hits, and Todd, Mathis, Ballard and Madison McKinney each reached base twice.

True to her word, Dietrich brought Todd back out for Game 2, and the North Carolina commit delivered again, although she wasn’t quite as dominant.

In the first inning, a single and two errors on the same play put runners on second and third with one out, but the lead runner elected not to try to score on a passed ball and Todd got a popup back to her and a groundout to Cio Seigler at shortstop to end the inning.

Runners reached second in each of the next two innings against Todd as well, but she kept the Lady War Eagles off the board long enough to give her offense some time to back her up.

That happened in the third, when No. 9 hitter Kayla Stephenson hit a leadoff triple, and, after two quick outs, Poston came through with the RBI single. Todd followed with a single of her own, and both scored on Mathis’ single when Chestatee’s pitcher cut off the throw home and threw it wildly past the base trying to cut Cole down at third.

Todd nearly gave one of those runs back in the top of the fourth when Chestatee first baseman Hannah Jones pulled a monster blast just to the wrong side of the foul pole down the left-field line, drawing groans from the home fans. She struck out on the next pitch.

For Cartersville, Stephenson was in the middle of things in the fourth as well, doubling over the center fielder’s head to score McKinney after a leadoff single. Poston would then trade places with Stephenson with an RBI double of her own for a 5-0 lead.

With a discouraged Chestatee team facing the prospect of making up that deficit against Todd, the Lady Canes quickly wrapped the game up in the fifth.

Mathis walked to lead off, Ballard reached on an error and McKinney singled to load the bases. Cole pinch hit for Seigler and struck out, but a routine groundout from Stephenson turned into two runs when the shortstop threw home and the catcher dropped the ball, letting it roll to the backstop and both Mathis and Ballard to score.

With the game-ending run just 90 feet away, Wilson walked to load the bases and Chestatee pitcher Becca Eddins also missed with a 3-2 pitch to Lauren McElhaney, bringing McKinney walking home and providing an anti-climactic ending to a big win for Cartersville.

Stephenson and McKinney each scored twice in the second game, while Poston drove in two in a balanced offensive effort.

“Hits are contagious and that’s something we say all the time,” Dietrich said. “They’re working hard. They’re watching at bats and they’re seeing pitch sequences and knowing what to expect when they get up there, and they’re doing a good job making contact and hitting to the situation also.”

The win means the Lady Canes are one of the last 16 teams left in the state 4A tournament. They’ll play another best-of-three series starting next Wednesday at the home field of No. 1 seed Northside Columbus. Win there, and they’ll head to Columbus again for a double-elimination tournament among the last eight teams.

“I’m proud of these girls,” Dietrich said. “We’ve been through ups and downs, and for them to turn out and come out and play hard like this and advance to the Sweet 16, I’m real proud of them.”