"I don't know what happened," Cartersville coach Stuart Chester said. "If I did, I'd go back and change it. We jumped out early. ... We let 'em back in the game. We didn't make the pitches we had to. They did a good job at the plate with the address. It just snowballed and got to a point where we couldn't stop it."
The Canes began Game 3 much better than they did in the nightcap loss of Tuesday's doubleheader.
Just like Spalding's Austin Hurt did to begin Game 2, Cartersville's Connor Justus led off the game with a home run to put the visitors up 1-0.
Luke Daniel followed up with a single, and the Canes looked ready to make it a two-run lead when Ben Venters doubled to the right-center field gap.
However, Daniel got cut down at the plate on a relay throw from Jaguars' shortstop Casey Moody.
Not deterred, Cartersville went on to load the bases and moved ahead 2-0 on Cory Collum's walk. Michael Willard slapped a two-run single to left, and Collum came home on a dropped fly ball in shallow left as the Canes led 5-0 after the top of the first.
Hurt led off the Jaguars' half of the inning with a double before Cartersville starter Kendall Hawkins recorded two consecutive strikeouts.
Hawkins waged a battle with the next batter, Dylan Griffin, until the Spalding first baseman was able to push the ball through to left field for an RBI hit. Robert Green also hit a run-scoring single as the Jaguars trimmed the lead to 5-2.
Three batters later, with the bases loaded, Powell Krepps drove the ball to the right-field line for a two-run double. Spalding added another run on Krepps' hit when the Canes kicked a relay throw from the outfield.
Following a walk to Austin Smith, Hurt untied the game with a three-run blast to center field as the Jaguars edged ahead of Cartersville for an 8-5 lead.
Spalding tacked on three more runs in the second off reliever Drew Flatford as designated hitter Zack Lerner matched Hurt's three-run homer with one of his own, sending Flatford's offering over the right-field wall.
In the third, the Canes got a two-out double down the third-base line from Collum, who later scored after stealing third and then came home as a throw by the Jaguars' catcher was off target.
Willard then added his third home run of the postseason with the right-handed batter going opposite field to pull Cartersville within 11-7.
Spalding continued to add runs, though, getting a bases-loaded walk from Nathan Skinner in the fourth and a two-run double from Skinner in the fifth. The Jaguars also crossed the plate in the fifth after a pitch soared to the backstop to give Spalding a 15-7 cushion.
Moody's sixth-inning sacrifice fly brought home Hurt, who led off the inning, for the Jaguars' 16th run.
The Canes fought to the end, as they are wont to do, with Zach Ross ripping a one-out single to left in the seventh followed by Taylor Wilson's two-run shot to left field, which made it a seven-run game.
Following a pop-up to center, Willard pulled a double to the left-field wall, but Hurt, who pitched the majority of the game in relief for Spalding, induced a flyball to right for the final out.
Hurt pitched 6 1/3 innings for the victory, giving up three earned runs and five hits with two walks and two strikeouts. His performance rescued Smith, the Jaguars' starter, who gave up three earned runs with one walk and one strikeout in two-thirds of an inning.
"We felt good about our No. 3, Austin Smith. He's pitched well all year-long. My hat's off to Cartersville, they came out swinging it. We had a quick trigger on him [Smith]," Spalding coach Mickey Moody said. "Hurt has been our best guy out of the [bull]pen. He came out and did his job. I couldn't be more proud of him but, again, he's done that all year-long."
Cartersville also went to its bullpen early, with Hawkins pitching one inning and giving up seven earned runs and six hits with two walks and three strikeouts. Flatford pitched marginally better, throwing one inning as well; he gave up four earned runs and two hits with two walks and one strikeout.
Canes reliever Teigh Dooley steadied the boat in the third and fourth innings, giving up one run -- which was credited to Flatford, who walked the leadoff man in the third. Dooley finished with three walks, two strikeouts and one hit in two innings.
Justus worked the final two innings for Cartersville, surrendering three earned runs and four hits with two strikeouts.
"In a third game like this, whoever gets a streak going [wins]. They had an inning or two, we had an inning or two, theirs was a little bit bigger than ours," Chester said. "You battle back, it changes the whole complexity of the game. We give 'em a couple, get behind in the count or don't address the ball at the plate right ... In the third game it's really a game of opportunities. We created opportunities. If you'd told me we'd score nine runs today, I would have thought we would have won.
"But hats off to them, they did a good job."
Jaguars hitters included Hurt, 3 for 3 (two walks, two doubles, home run, three RBIs); Casey Moody, 1 for 5 (RBI); Griffin, 3 for 5 (RBI); Green, 2 for 3 (walk, double, RBI); Skinner, 2 for 3 (walk, double, three RBIs); Lerner, 1 for 3 (walk, home run, three RBIs); and Krepps, 2 for 4 (double, two RBIs).
The Canes were led offensively by hitters Justus, 1 for 3 (home run, RBI); Daniel, 2 for 4; Venters, 1 for 4 (double); Ross, 2 for 4; Wilson, 1 for 4 (home run, two RBIs); Collum, 1 for 3 (walk, double); and Willard, 3 for 4 (double, home run, three RBIs).
With the win, Spalding will move on to the semifinals, where it will play host Woodward Academy, which swept Mary Persons (20-5, 17-7).
"Obviously, they're going to enjoy this because we beat a great ball club, a very well-coached team. This is our last home game for our seniors, and they went out with a bang," coach Moody said. "We're going to enjoy this, and we still got a lot of work to do. We're gonna come back go to work and get ready for the next series."
Cartersville, state champion in 2008-09, is forced to turn its attention to the offseason and next season following a second straight loss in the Elite Eight. The Canes lose plenty, including starting left-handed pitchers Sam Howard and Ben Dittmer, but return solid pieces. Sophomore shortstop Justus, one of the team's top all-around talents, returns next year as does junior DH Willard, who likely had the best postseason of any Cartersville player in going 10 for 24 with 11 RBIs and three homers.
Asked what he told his seniors -- which included starters Daniel, Venters, Colin Bennett, Wilson, Collum and Harris Battle -- Chester acknowledged there is not much to tell a player who has just played the final game of his prep career.
"There's not a lot that you can tell a kid who's poured four years into the program, other than the fact that the best thing that came out of the whole season is we all built a relationship out of it. ... Regardless of baseball, win or lose, we'll have that the rest of our lives."