Marra reaped the benefits of the close proximity between Cartersville High and the GHC campus Monday when he signed three notable Cartersville players off the 2013 Class AAA state runners-up in Brent Arnold, Destin Herron and Garrett Rutledge.
“You can’t go wrong with kids out of Cartersville. All three of these guys know how to play, know how to win, know how to compete,” Marra said. “We saw that with [2013 Cartersville graduate Ty Fowler as a member of Georgia Highlands] last year. He wasn’t fazed by anything. They’re just used to that environment here in Cartersville. You can’t teach that. When they come in here from a winning program, it’s a big benefit for us. They can help rub off on some of the other kids in our program who maybe haven’t come from winning programs. We’re excited about having them here.”
Cartersville head coach Stuart Chester also is pleased to see his former baseball players find a spot at the next level and believes they will fit right in at Georgia Highlands.
“It’s very proud moment,” Chester said of the signings. “Coach Marra, the job that they did this past year with a new program, now getting some more hometown boys in there, it’s exciting for two different reasons. No. 1, they’re going to get their education paid for. No. 2, they’ll get an opportunity to be close to home and we can go watch them. It’s just a great opportunity anytime baseball can help you with your education.
“I think they can step in and contribute right off the bat. All three guys are talented. The intangibles that I’ve been able to see for four years is their work ethic and they’re commitment, and I think that will speak for something.”
Arnold is one of those players who benefited from his hard work this past season. After not starting the first two games of the year, Arnold worked his way into the lineup and hit .370 with an on-base percentage of .453 and a county-leading .622 slugging percentage. He also led the county in home runs with six and RBIs with 28. He added eight doubles and scored 22 runs on the year.
The senior second baseman showed a knack for producing runs in critical situations. He hit .341 with a home run, two triples, three doubles and drove in a team-leading 12 runs during 12 postseason games.
“Brent, our biggest thing with him, is his hitting. If he can hit like he showed this year, that’s a big plus. We’ll find a place to put him, whether it’s second or third, DH, but obviously his biggest asset to us is his bat,” Marra said. “He showed some power, so we’re going to look at him in the fall to see where we can put him defensively. If he can hit like he’s capable of hitting, he’ll have a great opportunity to play as a freshman.”
Arnold had several important RBIs for the Canes this year, including in Game 3 of the state semifinal series against Buford. Down by a score of 3-1 with two outs and the bases loaded, Arnold hit a triple to clear the bases and give Cartersville the lead, one the Canes would hold on to and win the series. The previous game, Arnold hit a three-run homer to help Cartersville push the series to a third game.
Arnold also produced important runs during the regular season. He hit the game-winning, three-run home run against Ringgold when the two teams were tied atop the region standings on April 16. The home run completed a four-run comeback and helped Cartersville secure the No. 1 seed heading into the state playoffs.
“Brent, what he did for us this year was huge, and I think his best baseball is ahead of him,” Chester said. “They make it a year-round sport down there and he can swing the bat all year long. There’s no telling. He definitely has the power and has the commitment.”
Herron also was a key run producer for Cartersville this past season, primarily as a first baseman. He often batted out of the No. 3 hole in the lineup and hit .232 with a .361 on-base percentage and a .377 slugging percentage, which was fourth on the team. He hit two home runs, drove in 10 runs and scored 12 more in 69 at bats. He also provided a strong glove as his .889 fielding percentage was second on the team among regular infielders.
“Destin is a big strong kid who, if he swings the bat well and plays well at first, there’s opportunities there,” Marra said. “Destin will primarily play first, but his bat will determine how much he plays. He’ll see plenty of at bats in the fall, plenty of competition.”
Herron battled a back injury during the state tournament, and as a result, played sparingly during Cartersville’s run to the state championship series.
“I feel better about college, get healthy and get back at it. It is good to know that I can get back out there and get a chance to play again,” he said. “I just like [Georgia Highlands] because it’s close to home and they had some pretty good succes last year. I know [Marra] has been coming to the games a lot and I actually contacted him first to talk to him, so we got in contact, started talking and it worked out.”
Herron displayed his hitting potential against Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe on March 18 when he hit a home run and a double for a total of four RBIs is Cartersville’s 5-0 win. He also started the game and pitched five scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out six.
“Destin was injured for us and that really hurt us a lot at the end,” Chester said. “Healthy, he’ll contribute offensively and defensively.”
Another signee who will contribute in multiple ways is Rutledge, whose versatility is what attracted Marra two years ago when he started recruiting him.
“We may use him in the infield, the outfield, he may pitch a little bit. He is so versatile in the field, with his bat and his speed,” Marra said of Rutledge. “Because he’s so versatile, if somebody goes down somewhere, he can play all nine positions, basically. That is real important at our level because he provides that depth. That hurt us this year. We didnt have depth in the infield, so Garrett will provide that. He gives us a lot of options because of his versatility.”
“It feels very good,” Rutledge said of signing. “I’ve been trying to go to Georgia Highlands to get my two-year degree and transfer somewhere bigger. A bunch of my buddies from last year went there and did pretty good, so I’m ready to go.”
Rutledge was the workhorse during Cartersville’s postseason run, pitching a complete game in each of his five playoff starts, and even came on for a save in Game 3 of the semifinals against Buford after throwing a complete game the day before. He finished the postseason throwing 35 2/3 innings, allowing just 10 runs and striking out 30.
Rutledge led the Canes in innings on the year with 73 and finished the season with a 1.82 ERA and an 8-4 record.
Rutledge also was a key contributor on Cartersville’s 2013 state championship team as he compiled an 8-1 record to go along with a 1.41 ERA.
“I feel like I accomplished all of my goals,” he said of his high school career. “I set my mind to what I was going to do and I did it.”
More important than Rutledge’s, Herron’s and Arnold’s accomplishments are the intangibles they will bring to the Georgia Highlands program.
“All three of these guys, if you had to pick three off our team that are just mentally, physically tough, it’s these three,” Chester said.
Marra is excited about the intangibles his new signee possess and is hopeful of signing more Cartersville and Bartow County players in the future.
“As with any local guys that we can keep, it helps brand our program locally, and gives us support at the field and financially as well,” Marra said. “We want people to know that Bartow County has a college baseball program. Playing at LakePoint in the spring will help us and we’re at Cartersville in the fall, so the community can come out and watch us. We want them to know it’s their community, their college, their Chargers.”