One minute the Purple Hurricanes stood tied with visiting Oconee County and in the next, it seemed, Cartersville had exploded for 19 unanswered runs, which bridged the last inning of Game 1 as well as the entirety of Game 2, a 10-0 win in six innings.
The Canes, who won the first game 11-2, swept the Warriors with a great offensive showcase for the fans at Richard Bell Field, who very likely watched their final home game of the season. In its second-round series, Cartersville travels to play Veterans.
The Canes got some good practice playing as the visitors in the nightcap of the double-header, scoring in each inning save for the fifth.
"That was probably -- in the playoffs, first round -- as good an approach at the plate as we've had," Cartersville coach Stuart Chester said. "We struggled there a little bit [in the first game]. [The] first pitcher did a good job keeping us off balance. He was real deceptive with his off-speed [pitch]; it looked just like his fastball. And we're an aggressive team, and I'd rather be that way than sit there and watch it. But our guys adjusted well, played great defense and got a great performance out of Kendall [Hawkins] and Tyler Will -- good gracious."
Will pitched six innings for the victory in Game 2, earning the shutout after allowing just two hits and hitting one batter, while striking out four.
As well as Will pitched and as good as the Canes' offense looked in Game 2 -- it produced three home runs -- Chester credited a key defensive play from allowing momentum to go Oconee County's way after Cartersville took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on Tripp Jamieson's run-scoring hit up the middle.
"That may have been the play of the game, to be honest with you. We go out and score one and that gets over his head, they score one, and who knows? [It was] probably one of the biggest plays [we] had tonight," he said of center fielder Zach Ross' over-the-shoulder catch at the warning track, which robbed Blake Butcher of a hit that might have scored Zack Vaughn from first base after Vaughn was hit by a pitch with one out.
Instead, the Canes came back up to bat in the second and put up a 6-spot on the Warriors, which included back-to-back jacks from Tripp Jamieson and Michael Goss. Jamieson's home run to left scored three runs, and Goss' solo shot, which also cleared the left-field fence, gave Cartersville a 6-0 lead. Connor Justus' RBI hit to left scored the team's first run of the inning.
The Canes added a run in the third on Jojo Underwood's fielder's choice, and Ross' two-run homer to left, his second of the day, extended the lead to 9-0 in the fourth.
While his offense was steadily humming, Will didn't allow Oconee County to get into any kind of comfort zone. And when the Warriors did appear to make good contact with the ball, stellar defense usually erased a potential hit.
In the bottom of the fourth, Cartersville received its second over-the-shoulder catch of the game when Justus, making the run from his position at shortstop, chased down Butcher's popfly, a ball that forced him to retreat all the way into left and make a sliding catch.
" ... The catch Connor made is 'da-da-da, da-da-da,'" Chester would say afterward, singing the tune of ESPN's "SportsCenter," which chooses the best plays for its nightly top-10 list.
Oconee County eventually broke through for its first hit of the game on the next at-bat, but Will induced an inning-ending popout to get the Canes to sixth, where they added the game's final run on a wild pitch. The run gave Cartersville a 10-run lead, and after the holding the Warriors without a run in the bottom half of the inning, the game ended shy of the typical seven innings via the GHSA mercy rule.
Hitters for Cartersville in the second game were Ross, 1 for 4 (two RBIs, home run, walk); Justus, 1 for 3 (RBI, two walks); Jamieson, 2 for 3 (four RBIs, home run, two walks); Goss, 3 for 5 (RBI, home run, double); Underwood, 1 for 5 (RBI, double); Beau Benefield, 1 for 2 (double); and Asa Williams, 1 for 3 (hit by a pitch).
Cole Daniel had the other hit of the game for Oconee County.
Conner White started for the Warriors, giving up five earned runs on five hits, one walk and one hit batter in 1 1/3 innings pitched. He also had two strikeouts before being replaced by Brooks Crawford, who went the final 4 2/3 innings, allowing two earned runs on five hits and seven walks while striking out four.
Cartersville blew open a tie game in the series opener, blowing out Oconee County 11-2 on the strength of a nine-run sixth inning.
The Canes scored three runs on bases-loaded walks, and they also added six runs on a trio of two-run hits from Ross, Underwood and Goss.
Goss finished the game 3 for 4 with two doubles and two RBIs; Underwood was 2 for 3 with a double, two RBIs and an intentional walk; and Ross had two hits, in four at-bats, and three RBIs.
It was Ross' leadoff home run to left in the bottom of the first that put Cartersville ahead 1-0. Goss later hit a run-scoring double that sailed over the head of a backpedaling center fielder to give his team a two-run lead.
The Canes held that edge for three innings, even after the top of the second inning when Hawkins alternated walks and outs before escaping with no damage from a bases-loaded situation.
In the fifth, the Warriors recorded their first hits off Hawkins with three in a row. The last two were doubles, including David Aiken's game-tying, two-run double down the first-base line.
With things still tied 2-2 going into the bottom of the sixth, Cartersville seemed content to play for one run, looking to get Hayes Linn over to second base after the pinch runner came on for Jamieson, who led off with a walk.
After Goss failed to get the sacrifice bunt down on two attempts, the first baseman was allowed to swing away with two strikes. Goss drove a pitch to right-center field, putting runners in scoring position. An intentional walk to Underwood loaded the bases, and the Canes had two runs come in on walks to Michael Willard and Brandon Wells. Ross' flare to left made it 6-2, and Jamieson drew another bases-loaded walk before hits from Goss and Underwood capped Cartersville's scoring.
Other Cartersville hitters for Game 1 were Jamieson (1 for 2, triple, two walks) and Austin Adams (1 for 2).
Hits for Oconee County came from Davis Aiken, who had a two-RBI double, and Nick Bradshaw, Brandon Frazier, Chris Mejias and Marcus Knight each singled.
Hawkins went six innings for the win. He finished the game with two earned runs, five hits, four walks, one hit batter and four strikeouts.
The loss went to Bobby Holmes (five innings, five earned runs, six hits, two walks, seven strikeouts), and other Warriors pitchers were Tyler Guinnin (two-thirds, three earned runs, one hit, three walks) and Timmy Reeck (one-third, three earned runs, two hits, one walk, one strikeout).
The Canes advance to face Veterans, which swept its first-round playoff series against Westover, Chester said. The Warhawks, from Kathleen, are about a two-hour, 45-minute drive from Cartersville, but at this stage of the playoffs, distance doesn't matter much.
" ... Like I say, it doesn't matter where you go, the bases are still 90 feet; [it] is 60 feet, 6 inches ... from mound to the plate ...," Chester said. "We gotta have a great practice [Saturday] and Sunday and Monday and Tuesday, and then go down Wednesday and just do the little things and worry about us."
And, if the Canes can duplicate a second offensive eruption, things could go their way.
"I think when you get one or two or three [guys] like that that's hot, it makes everybody better because as a defensive person you say, 'Do not let that guy on. Look who's behind him.' Well, then that person's gonna get a better pitch. So, [the] bottom of the order should get better pitches," Cartersville's coach added. "The good thing about tonight is we hit all types of pitches. We hit the curveballs, fastballs, changeups, and the guys adjusted well and did very well with it and that's a plus."
The Canes second-round series with Veterans is slated to open Wednesday with a double-header. A third game, if necessary, would be played Thursday.