Although Cartersville’s opponent in the final series, Blessed Trinity, has not been hit quite as hard by graduation, the Titans are similarly replacing several members of their 2013 semifinalist squad.
Both Blessed Trinity and Cartersville have new faces contributing this year, but each team has found a way to make it to the championship series and will face off at Richard Bell Field today for a doubleheader, beginning at 3 p.m.
“To me, we’re almost mirror images of each other,” Blessed Trinity head coach Andy Harlin said of the similarities between his team and Cartersville’s. “They’re in the same boat we were as far as lost a lot of seniors who played, so we had a lot of guys that were covered up and had a lot of young guys jump in there. We’re two very similar teams. I really believe that.”
The Titans are led by a potent offense, scoring an average of 8.7 runs per game this season. In contrast, Cartersville’s offense has averaged 4.6 runs per game. However, Cartersville’s biggest strength this season has been its pitching staff, which has allowed about two runs per game.
“It’s going to be a tough round, there ain’t no doubt, but it’s the last one,” Cartersville head coach Stuart Chester said. “It’s hard to describe our guys right now... Confident? Yes. Cocky? No. Humble? Yes. Belief? Yes. I think they’re a polished machine. They don’t shine.”
“[Blessed Trinity] didn’t get hit with graduation as bad as we did but they had five [Division I] players last year. It’s hard to replace players like that, but Blessed Trinity is a quality program where you don’t just graduate, you replace.”
Blessed Trinity’s lineup is led by junior catcher Cody Roberts, who hit .416 with three home runs and 33 RBIs this season.
“He’s probably one of the best catchers in the Southeast,” Chester said of Roberts.
Roberts batted 4-for-6 and drove in four runs against Hart County in the semifinals.
He will bat in the No. 3 hole, followed by cleanup hitter Conor Davis, who is a sophomore and hit .394 this year to go along with six home runs and 29 RBIs and a .520 on-base percentage.
“He’s a good player,” Harlin said. “He’s a young guy but he’s going to be a good one for sure.”
Another one of Blessed Trinity’s top run producers is John Castro. The junior hit .340 this season with five home runs and 30 RBIs. Both Davis and Castro homered in each of the two games in the semifinals and drove in a combined 10 runs in the two-game series.
Junior Bronco O’Brien and sophomore Jake Bogosian also add power to the lineup and each hit over .350 with three home runs on the season.
“They have speed at the beginning and end of their lineup and, in between, they have power,” Chester said of Blessed Trinity’s lineup. “They’re like Buford, a complete baseball team. You don’t expect anything else in this round.”
The speed at the top and the bottom of the lineup includes O’Brien and Jack Dunn, who hit .369 this year. Dunn stole 21 bases on the season, while O’Brien stole 34.
“We think it’s a pretty compete lineup,” Harlin said.
Blessed Trinity won a state championship in 2006 and dominated Hart County in this year’s semifinal round, winning by scores of 13-5 and 10-2. They have only been pushed to Game 3 once in the postseason’s previous four rounds.
“They’re a complete baseball program — from the mound, behind the plate, they’re strong up the middle,” Chester said.
Chester is not concerned with the ease to which Blessed Trinity rolled through its semifinal series. In fact, he sees it as an advantage that his team had to come back in the decisive Game 3 against Buford to advance.
“I think anytime you get tested, it’s an advantage. We had the axe to the grindstone this last round, and there’s a lot of things that happened in that round that will make us better and that we probably will draw on [today],” Chester said. “I think if it doesn’t get to the point where you’re burning people’s arms and you don’t have time to recover and all that, but when you’re out there and you have pressure put all over you, I don’t think you do nothing but get better.”
Blessed Trinity’s pitching staff has not had to deal with as much pressure but has been rolling through the playoffs so far, allowing 22 runs in the team’s nine games. The staff features Ryan Young, a hard-throwing, right-handed pitcher who tops out with his fastball in the high 80s. He has a 1.32 ERA in 69 innings pitched and is 8-0 on the season. In the playoffs, Young has thrown 13 1/3 innings, two complete games and has allowed nine runs.
Brad Spinner also will likely get a start. The junior left-hander was Blessed Trinity’s best starter in the last three series, giving up just two runs in 19 1/3 innings. He does not throw as hard as Young, but started Game 1 against Hart County and has thrown two complete games in his last three outings.
Blessed Trinity has another left-handed pitcher at its disposal in senior Nate Lomax. Lomax gave up one run in two innings against Hart County.
Roberts also will pitch out of the bullpen and can hit the high 80s with his fastball. He has pitched three innings in the postseason out of the bullpen and has not surrendered a run.
“They got three or four aces,” Chester said. “We’re probably going to have to manufacture some runs because they fill the strike zone good enough to get you to hit their pitch. I don’t know if, against them, you have to be patient or you really have to attack when you think you get your pitch.”
One advantage the Canes do have is they will return to Richard Bell Field after a series at Buford. Cartersville has won 12 of the team’s last 14 games at home this season.
“Everybody’s got your sixth man, or your 12th man. We can call it our 10th man. Richard Bell Field has an atmosphere second to none in high school,” Chester said. “We’ve had programs, St. Pius, coach [James] Gilbert last year thanked us after we beat them in the semifinals for letting them be a part of the atmosphere here. He said it’s the best thing he’d seen. It’s different than even a college. I just think the atmosphere, our fans, and just the community, we have this place to where it’s very hard for an opponent to come in and stay focused.”
If necessary, Game 3 will take place at 1 p.m. Monday at Richard Bell Field. Chester will not be able to coach Game 1 of the series after he was ejected Monday during Game 2 of the semifinal series against Buford, leading to a two-game suspension.