As a result, the difference between winning and losing at this stage often comes down to who manages to make the least mistakes.
Cartersville and Callaway traded mistakes in the first two games of the teams’ quarterfinal series Tuesday at Richard Bell Field, and consequently split the series to set up a deciding Game 3 today at 6 p.m.
“Whoever gets the most breaks or whoever makes the least mistakes will probably take it,” Cartersville head coach Stuart Chester said of the impending Game 3. “It’s just two good baseball teams.”
Callaway 1, Cartersville 0
Two first-inning errors led to one Callaway run, which ultimately decided the pitcher’s duel between Cartersville’s Garrett Rutledge and Callaway’s Perry Keith.
Callaway has plenty of team speed and Chester knew heading into the series that his pitching staff and defense would have to keep the Cavaliers off the basepaths.
An error in the first inning by the Canes allowed jet-quick shortstop Austin Garrett to reach base. Garrett proceeded to steal second and third base before scoring on an RBI single by Chase Freeman with two outs in the inning.
Cartersville had a chance of its own to get on the board in the bottom of the third inning with the bases loaded and one out.
Fortunately for the Canes, they had one of their top hitters in the lineup, Brent Arnold, at the plate. Unfortunately for the Canes, Arnold made solid contact and lined a ball off the pitcher and right to the shortstop, Garrett, who turned the inning-ending double play.
“We’re sitting there in the first game, bases loaded, Brent hits a rocket up the middle off the pitcher and right to the shortstop, and he gets it to the second baseman. The throw even short-hopped the first baseman,” Chester recalled of the play. “In my stomach, I knew. When you don’t get breaks against a good team like that, phew, it’s tough.”
Despite the lack of run support, Rutledge displayed his usual grit on the mound, going the distance for the third time in as many postseason starts this year.
He gave up five hits, one walk and one unearned run in seven innings of work. He also struck out four.
“Garrett pitched his tail off,” Chester said. “I’m telling you, he competed.”
Rutledge worked around four errors and out of two jams to keep Cartersville in the game. In the first inning, after a run had already scored and another error had put a runner on third base, Rutledge struck out Callaway’s Cortney Laye to get out of the inning.
Then in the top of the fifth, another error and a walk put two runners on with no outs and Callaway’s No. 3 and 4 hitters due up. Rutledge worked out of the jam with two quick outs. For the final out, with runners on the corners, Rutledge stepped off the rubber to catch the baserunner at first base attempting to take second. Rutledge ran at the runner, prompting the runner at third base to try and go home. Rutledge noticed and threw to home where Elliott Berrey applied the tag for the third out of the inning to end the threat.
Still, Cartersville was unable to muster a comeback, producing just two hits by Clifton Dempsey and David Darnell.
Cartersville 4, Callaway 3
Up until Game 2 against Cartersville, Callaway had not yet allowed a run in five playoff games, which included five complete-game starting pitching performances.
Finally, Cartersville was able to break through and did so early with three first-inning runs.
The Canes have had success in the first inning of Game 2 of doubleheaders so far in the 2014 playoffs.
Against White County in the first round, Cartersville scored eight runs in the first inning of Game 2. Against Woodward Academy in the second round, the Canes scored two runs in the first inning of Game 2.
“If we score in the second game of doubleheaders, maybe in a three-game series we can triple that,” Chester said.
Cartersville scored its three runs on three walks and an Elliott Anderson single. The Canes got their first run with the bases loaded and two outs on a Rutledge walk. Callaway pitcher Nick O’Berry then threw a wild pitch, scoring pinch runner Trent Frazier from third base. Callaway catcher C.J. Gallatin attempted to recover and throw out Frazier at the plate. However, his throw went awry, allowing Cameron Neal to score all the way from second for Cartersville’s third run of the inning.
By the end of the game, Callaway’s fielding errors would cost them in a one-run ballgame the way mistakes cost Cartersville in the first game.
The errors and subsequent runs provided some breathing room for Anderson, a sophomore starting pitcher making his second playoff start. Anderson allowed three runs in 4 1/3 innings.
“He stepped up big in the playoffs,” Chester said of Anderson. “That’s what he’s had to do with our injuries and stuff like that. Somebody is going to have to step up tomorrow, too.”
Callaway scored two, two-out runs in the second inning, the first of which came when Gallatin scored on a Dylan Johnson base hit.
Gallatin led off the inning and appeared to have struck out on a 2-2 pitch in the dirt. Gallatin began walking off the field with the belief that he had swung and missed, and Berrey threw down to first base also believing Gallatin had struck out.
However, the home plate umpire ruled the ball had been fouled off, to the chagrin of Chester, who went out and argued the call.
“It was obvious,” Chester said of the swing and miss.
Gallatin singled six pitches later and scored one of the two, two-out runs in the inning.
Not only did the potential swing-and-miss call possibly cost Cartersville two runs, but Anderson threw 24 more pitches in the inning.
The Canes would bounce back, however, and with the score at 3-2, Cartersville added an insurance run in the fourth inning when Mark Quattlebaum lined a double over the left fielder’s head to score Lane Wilson from second, who doubled down the left-field line to lead off the frame.
That insurance run proved critical as Callaway added a run of its own in the fifth inning on a home run by the lineup’s No. 9 hitter, Dylan Johnson.
After allowing the home run, Anderson began to get in trouble. With his pitch count over 80, he walked Callaway’s Garrett on four pitches. Three pitches into the next at bat, Wilson came on to relieve Anderson and immediately got out of the inning with two consecutive outs. He then pitched scoreless sixth and seventh innings to preserve the win.
“Lane did a good job,” Chester said. “He just throws strikes and he competes. That’s all you can ask for from somebody on the mound.”
“Curveball and changeup mostly, and I used my fastball on the outside corner to sneak it past them,” Wilson said of how he got Callaway batters out in the pressure situation of protecting a one-run lead in an elimination game. “When I started in Game 1 in the first round [against White County on May 2] I felt a lot of pressure, but I got comfortable after that. [Chester] brought me in earlier in the season to relieve, so I just got used to it.”
After using Wilson for the final 2 2/3 innings Tuesday, the Canes have just one other pitcher available on staff who has seen action in the playoffs — Destin Herron pitched two innings against Woodward Academy, but is hampered by a back strain.
With several injuries to deal with, Chester will likely have to mix and match pitchers for the series finale. As of Tuesday night, Chester did not know who would get the call to start Game 3.
“I’ll have to sleep on that one,” he said. “I’m really not sure right now.”