However, after losing 14 seniors from last season’s state title team, a new group of leaders will have to emerge for Cartersville in 2014 for the team to reach its goals.
“Probably, all around, they were just great kids and probably the most chemistry we’ve ever had,” head coach Stuart Chester said of his seniors last season. “Every time you saw them out, they were all together. I don’t know if they were the most talented, but as far as pulling for each other and just being a united team, it was probably the best.”
Chester will have to replace several talented members of the 2013 team, including shortstop Connor Justus who is playing at Georgia Tech. All in all, nine starters will have to be replaced.
The graduations have left some holes in the batting order that will need to be replaced.
“It’s one thing to lose a bunch of seniors like we did, but to have a bunch of young guys who watched those seniors and watched what they did to kind of set the bar and set the example, it really fires these guys up and they have had a very good offseason,” Chester said of his team this season. “They know that the positions are there and they are really going to have an opportunity. They don’t have a large senior class in front of them, and that’s motivation for them right there.”
Still, with so many positions open, there are some question marks heading into the season.
“Our big question mark is whether we are going to be able to score runs or not. It just depends on what kind of offseason some of these younger guys had,” Chester said. “We’ll pull from our JV and a few that were on our bench last year. If you can hit, you can play this year.”
At catcher, Ty Fowler and Drew Lawson graduated. Fowler’s younger brother, Jacob, is one of the players competing for the position.
“We’ve got a couple bidding for that position right now,” Chester said. “Whoever can hit the best is probably going to go back there.”
Trip Jamieson at first base, Jojo Underwood at third, and Justus at short also graduated leaving Clifton Dempsey as the lone returning everyday starter in the infield.
Dempsey will move from second base to shortstop this season.
“He played shortstop some there last year, too,” Chester said. “If there’s a ground ball, it doesn’t matter where he’s at, he’ll catch it.”
Garrett Rutledge also will factor into the infield equation as well as see some time on the mound.
“With Garrett and Clift coming back, there are probably two or three infield spots that will be available for someone to win,” Chester said. “Garrett, being a left-handed stick and being able to hit to all parts of the field, will probably factor in there somewhere.”
In the outfield, Hayes Linn in center field, Beau Benefield in right and Austin Adams in left will have to be replaced. Senior Mark Quattlebaum will be one of the three outfield starters and the remaining two spots will be competed over.
“Mark figures to be, probably, the prime candidate because he’s so fast and he puts the ball in play,” Chester said. “There again, we’re going to look for somebody and we probably won’t have our lineup decided until the first day of region.
“We’re looking for big things offensively out of Garrett, Clifton and Mark, which of course, are three of our better guys that are returning.”
The pitching situation is more stable with several returners. Rutledge returns after posting an 8-1 record along with a 1.41 earned run average in 44.2 innings.
“We have a lot of options. We have a lefty, Elliot Anderson and Wyatt Barnett are back, so there’s three lefties that will have an opportunity,” Chester said. “That position is wide open. I think our pitching staff is going to be good. I think they’re going to be OK. Defensively, we are going to be OK.”
Some of the pitchers may find themselves in the lineup when not on the mound.
“These pitchers may not be just pitching. Wyatt Barnett has gotten a lot stronger, and of course, he’s a left-handed hitter, just like Elliot Anderson.”
Until late March rolls around, when Cartersville begins region play, Chester plans to try different players at different positions to get a feel for his optimal lineup. However, regardless of who is manning the diamond, Cartersville expects to compete for another title.
“Just from what the guys have done in the past, they expect to win a state championship, graduated nine or not,” Chester said of his team. “Of course, our goal as a coach is to tone that down a little bit and take it one game at a time, one pitch at time, and one at bat at a time and see where it falls.”
The Canes were scheduled to begin their season today against Cherokee, but the game has been rescheduled due to winter storm PAX. The next game on the schedule is Feb. 21 against Marist at home.