A team that, perhaps, no one — save for the faithful inhabitants of Richard Bell Field — believed measured up well enough to its past to reach glory once more managed to achieve a milestone only a handful of teams have been lucky enough to experience.
For whatever the Canes lacked in comparition to the program’s five other title winners — like multiple NCAA Division I signees or a surefire first-round draft pick — they possessed the most pertinent aspect of their forebearers: a knack for delivering great results in the face of adversity.
No matter the situation, this year’s Cartersville team seemed to have an answer to solve it, a trait borne throughout the season in battles with bigger, and sometimes better, schools.
Despite sweeping through to win Region 5-AAA with a 14-0 record, the Canes tasted defeat thrice in nine games at the hands of non-region opponents and also lost three times in four games at a Perfect Game tournament in Florida.
Without those setbacks, it would have been impossible to imagine Cartersville’s come-from-behind series win against Woodward Academy, where it erased a 1-0 second-round deficit, or its three wins by one run during a 10-1 postseason flourish.
“We’ve been through the [tough] situations all yearlong,” Tripp Jamieson said Saturday in Gainesville after hitting a game-winning, series-clinching single up the first-base line that drove home Beau Benefield in the Canes’ 2-1 victory.
“We all stepped up to the plate,” Jamieson, a first baseman, continued. “So many times you have a team [where] it’s two, three guys stepping out above everybody, but we’ve been solid as a team and everybody [has played] their part … it’s been awesome.”
Whether it was Jamieson providing the game-winning hit, as he did Saturday against North Hall, or third baseman JoJo Underwood delivering a walkoff single to finish off a sweep of host Dodge County in the quarterfinals, Cartersville embodied a next-man up approach that belies many of the game’s great teams.
“We have each other’s backs,” said shortstop Connor Justus, a Georgia Tech signee who got the save on the mound against the Trojans in a 4-2, Game 1 win. “It’s not about one of us, it’s about the whole team. So when one of us messes up or anything, it’s about picking each other up.”
For a moment, the Canes seemed to have run out of answers against a wheeling-and-dealing Colton Duttweiler of North Hall, whose no-hit performance through four innings appeared to be pointing toward a Memorial Day showdown, a winner-take-all Game 3.
That seemed to be the case, until Cartersville got a friendly reminder in the dugout.
“I just kept telling ’em to relax,” Canes coach Stuart Chester said. “It seemed like we were pressing, and we were the ones that were up a game. I told ’em to relax and enjoy the moment … we get the last swing. We’ve been here before — this is the third time it’s happened …”
Cartersville collected its first hit off Duttweiler in the fifth as Hayes Linn beat out a throw from the Trojans’ shortstop for an infield single. He later scored on Jamieson’s sacrifice fly, which tied the game at 1-all. Two innings later, the Canes were once again state champions.
“It’s the best feeling in the world. This didn’t even compare to anything else,” Justus admitted.
Meanwhile, Jamieson recalled the journey.
“It’s unbelievable. You start off the season, you’re running and going through tryouts and you talk about, ‘Hey, push it hard. We might be able to make it. We can do it. We have the talent,’” he said. “And then once you really get here, it’s a whole ’nother feeling. It just seems like it clicks by … It’s just amazing.”
Chester may very well describe this year’s team as just that — amazing — even if few did for much of the season.
“… They’ve got baseball talent, but they have character,” said Chester, explaining what made this championship team great. “When you put character with work ethic … you can do anything.”
“The camaraderie, the heart, the guts, I mean, I can’t say enough about our team and how hard we’ve worked just to get this moment,” added Justus after the team’s trophy ceremony. “And, you know, we probably weren’t the best team in the state, but we had the most guts and we came out on top so that’s all we can ask for.”
After 30 wins in 37 games, there are a slew of teams who would beg to differ.
Cartersville certainly was the best in the state — and intestinal fortitude had everything to do with it.