After what must have seemed like eternity for fans who became accustomed to winning state championships — five in a 10-year span — the Cartersville Purple Hurricanes pushed their way into the final weekend of the Georgia High School Association baseball season.
The Canes completed a sweep of visiting St. Pius — 4-3, 9-4 — giving the faithful crowd at Richard Bell Field a proper sendoff in the final home series of the year. Cartersville awaits the winner of Blessed Trinity-North Hall, with the victor hosting the Canes in the Class AAA state championship series. The two teams play Game 3 of their series today, with the title game set to start Saturday.
“We’ve been blessed. We’ve played for six [state championships] and have won five. I guess the [biggest] satisfaction of it this time is [watching] that group of players [contend for the state title],” Cartersville coach Stuart Chester said. “They’re just a bunch of blue-collar guys.”
The Canes had to hold on for dear life to pull out a one-run victory in Game 1. They did not want to leave anything to chance in the nightcap of the doubleheader.
While Cartersville did well to establish early leads in both games, it had yet to put its foot to the pedal in closing out the Golden Lions — that is until Beau Benefield helped catapult the Canes to their biggest inning of the day.
With Jojo Underwood on third base, Evan Cole on second and Ty Fowler on first, Benefield cleared the bases with a three-run double to left field in the top of the fifth inning. The right fielder’s hit provided Cartersville with the sort of cushion it lacked in the first game and further paved the way for an even more monumental inning.
Leading 6-2, the Canes would go on to add a trio of runs, coming on a wild pitch, an error and, finally, on Underwood’s run-scoring single to right. The hosts held a 9-2 advantage when the dust settled.
Jack Spear’s solo home run to left in the bottom of the fifth gave St. Pius its third run, and Spear — who finished 2 for 2 with a walk and a hit by pitch — later scored in the seventh on Will Robertson’s fielder’s choice to supply the final margin.
Hunter Osborn picked up the win for Cartersville, pitching three innings with one earned run, three strikeouts and two walks (one hit batsmen). Garrett Rutledge (3 1/3 innings, two earned runs, six hits, three walks, one hit batter) and Connor Justus (two-thirds of an inning) also took the mound for the Canes.
“I think [the fifth inning] just broke their backs,” Chester said. “We’ve been looking for an inning like that for four rounds. What a great opportunity for Beau Benefield to come through. You couldn’t have picked a better kid [for that to happen to].”
Cartersville, designated as the visiting team in Game 2, jumped out to an early lead with two runs in the top of the first, one on Austin Adams’ sacrifice fly to left and another on Drew Lawson’s RBI single to left.
The Canes, who placed the leadoff batter on base in the first three innings, added a run to make it 3-0 in the second when Justus’ sac fly — following Clifton Dempsey’s sac fly to move the runner to third — scored Benefield, who led off the inning with a double to the left-field wall.
St. Pius twice drew closer to Cartersville in the third — off Quincy Nieporte’s run-scoring double — and fourth — off Grant Williams’ bases-loaded walk — but the Golden Lions still trailed by one run, 3-2.
In the top of the fifth, the Canes made any future St. Pius comeback attempt a moot point as Underwood took first after being hit by a pitch, followed by a sac bunt attempt by Lawson that induced an errant throw from the pitcher and placed both runners on base. Cole replaced Lawson on first.
When Fowler was intentionally walked, Benefield had the moment all to himself and delivered.
Benefield finished 2 for 4 with three RBIs and two doubles, and Underwood collected three hits on the night, with a double and hit by a pitch among the results of his five plate appearances. Justus (2 for 4, RBI, hit by a pitch) delivered Cartersville’s other two hits.
Along with Spear, the Golden Lions’ offensive contributors were Justin Yestrumsky, 2 for 4; Jack Walsh, 2 for 3; Matt Nall, 2 for 4; and, Jack Pelt, 1 for 3.
Pitcher Mike Krill, St. Pius’ Game 2 starter, took the loss after surrendering five earned runs, six hits and five walks (two hit batters) in 4 1/3 innings. He struck out three.
Game 1: Canes 4, St. Pius 3
After breaking through for a three-run lead in the third inning, the Cartersville Purple Hurricanes had to weather the storm Monday as St. Pius pulled within one run, 4-3, late in Game 1 of the GHSA Class AAA baseball semifinals.
The Canes, however, recorded the final out in the sixth inning and stranded a Golden Lion runner on second base to end the game with a one-run win.
Justus yielded a leadoff single in the seventh, a potential foul ball that rolled out the glove of right fielder Benefield, who made the diving attempt near the boundary.
The umpire’s call did not seem to sit well with the Cartersville faithful, but it was all for naught as Justus ended St. Pius’ threat by fielding a sacrifice bunt, striking out a batter and — following a walk — inducing a game-ending flyout to right.
Justus recorded the save, while starter Hayes Linn picked up the win with a six-inning effort. Linn gave up just one earned run on four hits and he also struck out six batters in the game.
Offensively for the Canes, Justus went 1 for 3 (walk); Tripp Jamieson hit 2 for 3; Adams connected for two hits in three at bats, including a three-run home run; Fowler finished up 1 for 3 (double); and Benefield produced a hit in three at bats.
St. Pius actually struck first in its series-opening game with Cartersville, taking a 1-0 lead in the top of the first after starting pitcher Jack Spear drove a pitch to left.
The Canes matched the Golden Lions in their bottom half of the inning with Drew Lawson hitting the left-field wall to tie the game. Adams, who singled to left to get on, was gunned out at the plate on the same play, as St. Pius completed the bang-bang play at home.
Cartersville did not have to wait long for its first lead, though, as Justus and Jamieson each singled to left to start the bottom of the third. Adams also hit to left — just a wee bit farther.
The Canes’ left fielder cleared the wall with his shot, giving the hosts a 4-1 edge.
The three-run margin stood firm for a couple innings with Linn wheeling and dealing on the mound, as the senior hurler held the Golden Lions scoreless for four innings total.
St. Pius got back on the scoreboard in the sixth as Cartersville committed a one-out error, which immediately led to a run following Nieporte’s RBI double to the left-field wall to draw the Golden Lions to 4-2.
Another came across the plate off of Peter Zyla’s groundout, but Linn escaped the inning without any further damage. It proved to be enough as the Canes’ lead held.
Taking the loss for St. Pius was Spear, who pitched 5 1/3 innings with four earned runs, eight hits, four walks (hit batter) and one strikeout.
Spear led his team with two hits, and the Golden Lions got additional offensive contribution from Yestrumsky, Nieporte and Walsh, who each had one hit.