The Purple Hurricanes also garnered the region’s biggest awards, with second baseman Ben Venters being named Region 7-AAA Player of the Year and coach Stuart Chester tabbed Region 7-AAA Coach of the Year.
Joining Venters on the all-region first team were shortstop Connor Justus, catcher Taylor Wilson, outfielder Luke Daniel, designated hitter Michael Willard and pitcher Sam Howard.
First baseman Colin Bennett and third baseman Harris Battle made the all-region second team, while outfielder Cory Collum and pitcher Ben Dittmer were named honorable mention.
“It’s an honor for the kids to be recognized,” Chester said. “For them to be recognized is just a pat on the back for what they’ve done for our team and our region. … It’s a reward for the kids.”
As much of a reward as it may be, the Cartersville skipper noted that he and his ball club would rather be playing around this time of the year. The Canes were ousted from the quarterfinals of the GHSA playoffs last Wednesday, losing 16-9 to Spalding in Game 3.
“It’s an honor. I really appreciate it. [But] I’d like to be playing and be runner-up coach [of the year] or not even mentioned,” Chester said. “It [does not] make [swallowing the loss] any easier, but it definitely is a plus anytime your program can be honored, and to be respected by your peers, that’s something that’s hard to put a price tag on. … They made an impression on other people.
“Again, it’s nice to be mentioned by your peers.”
Chester said Venters’ POY honor was a direct result of his preparation prior to the season.
“He had a great season. [He] probably had one of the best offseasons I’ve seen; physically, [he] just got stronger,” Chester said of the 5-foot-9-inch, 175-pound Venters, who has played an array of positions for the Canes — outfield, first base, second base and third base.
“He was born to hit and that’s what he loves doing,” Chester added of the Georgia Perimeter College signee. “That makes people all around [him] better.”
The award caught Venters off guard, but the senior infielder is very much appreciative of the award.
“I was kind of surprised. I didn’t think I would receive something like that,” Venters said.
While acknowledging the award does not suppress he or his team’s desire to still be playing, Venters added, “It kind of sucks getting put out of the third round, but [this is] an honor.”
The motivation for Cartersville to make another deep run helped fuel Venters prior to the season and during the Canes’ 26-6 season.
“I did my best,” added Venters, who hit .398 with eight home runs and a team-high 43 hits, 15 doubles and 38 RBIs. “I think I really pushed myself in the offseason. … During the season, coaches pushed us real hard, and I think that helped me as a player.
“[I was] just putting in the time and doing what the coaches asked and being a team player — doing whatever the coaches asked to help out the team.”
Receiving such recognition, as Venters and his teammates did, further adds to the tradition of Cartersville, which was named Program of the Decade earlier this year by the Georgia Dugout Club.
“I think it does,” Venters said. “Cartersville’s always had talent, and this year proved it. We got some players that can play the game. I love our coaches; they pushed us.”
In regard to the Canes’ other all-region selections, Justus led the team with a .416 average, adding 29 RBIs and four home runs; Willard hit .400 with 15 RBIs and three homers; Daniel drove in 38 RBIs with six homers and a .381 average; Wilson batted .321 with 20 RBIs and five home runs; Bennett had a .320 batting clip to go with 35 RBIs and a team-leading nine long balls; and Battle finished up with a .316 average, 23 RBIs and one home run.
Howard, a southpaw, win 7-1 with a 1.53 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings.
The team’s two honorable mentions, Dittmer and Collum, went 6-2 with a 3.09 ERA and hit .366, respectively. Dittmer added 54 Ks in 45 1/3 innings, and Collum knocked in 25 RBIs and had four homers.
Canes picked for senior all-state game
In addition to his selection to the all-region team, Venters also was picked to play in this year’s Top 96/Senior All-Star Tournament, along with teammates Daniel and Wilson.
The senior all-state games are scheduled to be held Tuesday, May 31, and Wednesday, June 1, and Saturday and Sunday, June 4-5.
The Northwest Georgia All-Star Team, of which Daniel, Venters and Wilson are members, plays the Northeast Georgia All-Star Team Tuesday and the Atlanta West All-Star Team next Wednesday. Both games are 7 p.m. at Kennesaw State University.
The Northwest Georgia All-Star Team closes its four-game set with matchups against the Southwest and Atlanta East all-star teams next Saturday and Sunday, respectively, at Luther Williams Stadium in Macon. The June 4 game is at 5:30 p.m. and the June 5 game at 10 a.m.