Cartersville stormed out to a four-run lead in the first two innings of Tuesday’s game before holding on for a 4-3 win by thwarting a late rally attempt by the visitors.
Canes coach Stuart Chester applauded his team for its approach, especially since it came following a change to its normal schedule due to a break in school.
“I think they came out ready, and today [was] such a mental game for us ’cause we’ve been out of school for two days, different routine. We [came] in and hit this morning. Then they leave and go to lunch and then we come back, and it’s almost kind of getting that lackadaisical mode,” Chester said. “And a lot of teams will carry that over into their play, but we came out the gate, right off the bat and got after it.”
Zach Ross, Connor Justus and Michael Willard all reached base for Cartersville in the bottom of the first, with Willard’s single to center field loading the bases.
Asa Williams popped up in foul territory, just outside of the right-field line, but after a relay throw from the War Eagles’ outfielder appeared to hold the runners, an errant throw to second base brought two runs in for the Canes.
Cartersville added a couple more runs in the second as Kendall Hawkins drew a walk to lead off the inning followed by a perfect sacrifice bunt from Beau Benefield that went toward first base to move pinch runner Jacob Baxter over to second. Ross then smacked an RBI double to left-center field, making it 3-0. Justus then drove in the Canes’ fourth run with his RBI double to right-center.
Marist managed to plate its first run of the game in the top of the third, an inning that began with Patrick Anhunt reaching base after a dropped grounder by the pitcher. Anhunt later scored on Anthony Sherlag’s run-scoring hit to right.
“It kind of bothered me there in the beginning. PFP, that’s what we call it — it’s pitcher fielding practice,” Chester said. “Those are the things that count. And we do that every practice, every day. It upset me we didn’t execute those, but it’s just those little things like that. The great plays will come, but those things you gotta count on.”
After surrendering that early run, Cartersville responded by holding the War Eagles scoreless for the next three innings, a stretch of play that included some fine defensive moments from the Canes’ two returning starters from last year — Ross, a senior center fielder, and Justus, a junior shortstop.
Ross’ play came in the top of the fifth with two outs, runners in scoring position and the tying run at the plate in the form of War Eagle designated hitter Michael Toner. Toner sent a ball to center field that looked as if it would get past Ross.
Ross, however, had the ball read perfectly and made an amazing stretch catch, backhanding the ball as he came up on the warning track.
The next inning, Justus took his turn making a fine defensive stop, sliding to field a grounder and throwing to second baseman Clifton Dempsey, who completed a 6-4-3 double play to Michael Goss who made the pick in the dirt at first.
“That’s probably the best catch in center field I’ve seen since I’ve been here and probably the best double play I’ve seen,” Chester said of the two plays. “You got Zach Ross who sets the tempo ’cause that saves some runs. … He’s got speed and speed can get you there, but he knows how to play it. … And then [that was] probably the best double play I’ve seen turned here, from Connor to Clifton to Michael. It’s like I told ’em, those three got faith in one another. Hey, turn it loose and see what the outcome [will] be.”
Even after those two plays, Cartersville had to hold on in the seventh as Justus ran into trouble trying to close the game out on the mound. Justus walked three batters and allowed a run-scoring grounder and an RBI single to Toner. He struck out the final batter to end the game.
Justus was one of four Canes pitchers to see action in the game. Hawkins started the night out, striking out five batters and walking one while allowing just one hit in two innings. Trey Graves (two strikeouts) and Tyler Will (three strikeouts) also pitched for Cartersville.
Chester thought his team pitched well overall, but they fell behind in the count too much for his liking.
“I thought the pitching was good, but we just got too deep in the count. I like to get ahead in the count so we can work people, and we just got too deep in the count,” he said. “We’re at [an] advantage when we get ahead in the count, and of course that cuts down on throws on the pitchers’ arms, too.”
At the plate, the Canes were led by Ross (2 for 3, two doubles, walk, RBI), Jojo Underwood (2 for 3) and Tripp Jamieson (2 for 3, double). Other hitters included Willard (1 for 4) and Justus (1 for 2, hit by a pitch, walk).
“Zach Ross at the plate, I mean, he just squared up. He had a great night at the plate, and so did Jojo,” Chester said. “[Underwood has] hit the ball hard every time he’s come up. To do it from a DH role, it speaks even more for him ’cause it’s hard to sit over on the bench, not in the ballgame, and then DH. It takes a special breed for that, and he definitely did it.”
Cartersville, which finished last season 26-6, returns to Richard Bell Field for its next game Monday when it hosts Class AAAAA team Lassiter. The Canes will need to work on the mental part of the game before then, their coach said.
“I think mentally tonight we had some questions about where to go with [the ball] and what to do with it, and that’ll come with experience and playing. That’s just an inexperienced group there, so that will be huge for us, I think, the mental part.”
Cartersville’s game with the Trojans is scheduled for 5:55 p.m.