2nd Round Notebook: Adams saves day with bat, glove
Cartersville senior Kolby Adams bats ninth and plays right field for the Canes. While not exactly known as prime positions for most teams, just being able to crack the starting lineup for a program like Cartersville proves a certain level of skill.
Adams’ ability was on full display in helping the Canes sweep Flowery Branch by scores of 2-0 and 3-2 on Thursday in a Class 4A state second-round home series.
In Game 1, he broke a scoreless tie with a run-scoring single to left field in the fifth inning. It was a hard-fought at-bat against Andrew Armstrong, a Florida State commit, but Adams certainly wasn’t intimidated.
After swinging through the first pitch of the at-bat, Adams fouled off four pitches in a row, took a ball and then grounded a single through the left side of the infield to score J.P. Martin.
“I was late at first,” Adams said. “The longer I kept seeing him, the better my timing got. I finally just got my foot down and put the barrel on it.”
The key hit, which was the first of the game for Cartersville and one of only two the team had in the win, impressed Canes head coach Kyle Tucker.
“Just super proud of Kolby for that at-bat,” Tucker said. “Runner in scoring position, Kolby got behind 0-1 on a pitch probably out of zone. Facing a young man who himself hadn’t given up a run in the playoffs and had shut out Marist earlier in the year, so we knew what kind of pitching we were facing.
“Kolby battled … and boom, base-hit, we took the lead.”
Adams, though, wasn’t perfect. But even his mistakes seemed to work out.
On his go-ahead hit, Adams moved to second base on the throw in from the outfield and Brant Smith reached third. With one out, Josh Davis chopped a ball to the second baseman, leading to an easy out at first base.
Meanwhile, Adams had taken off towards third, while Smith held up. Flowery Branch tried to catch Adams retreating to second but threw home before even attempting a tag.
“I brain farted,” Adams admitted. “I was standing on second, ball hit backside of me. I wasn’t really thinking. I was like, ‘I’m going to third,’ and then I see Brant held up. … It really worked out in our favor, but it was a brain fart.”
Smith scored to make the score 2-0, and Adams came up clutch again in Game 2 to wipe away any memory of the mishap. With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the seventh, the Falcons crushed a ball deep into the right-field corner.
Adams sprinted towards the wall before easing up on the warning track to record the final out.
“I was going for it all the way,” Adams said. “I told myself, ‘I’m either going to hit the wall, or I’m going to catch the ball.’ … It was scary.”
As the ball sailed into the sky, Adams wasn’t the only one in a purple Canes jersey worried.
“At first, I was like, ‘That’s crushed. We might be going to a Game 3,'” Cartersville’s Game 1 starter Mason Barnett said. “I trusted in Kolby, and Kolby made a great play. It was awesome.”
SCORELESS STREAK ENDS — While Cartersville would undoubtedly have taken victories by any scores against Flowery Branch, the Canes will probably be slightly aggrieved to see their incredible scoreless streak come to an end.
After shutting out Oconee County across both games of a first-round doubleheader, Cartersville carried a streak of four consecutive shutouts into Thursday. The 2-0 win pushed the number to five before a two-out, two-run bloop single into right allowed the Falcons to score in the fifth inning of Game 2.
In fact, the game produced the first earned runs scored against Cartersville pitching since a 6-5 win over Sandy Creek on April 10. It was a remarkable accomplishment, and even though Thursday’s nightcap brought an end to the streak, the game also showed just how a team gets on such a streak.
Flowery Branch had ample opportunities to score in the contest, but starter Logan Martin escaped some tight spots. Later in the game, Gage Morris wiggled out of trouble to maintain the 3-2 lead.
“You’ve got to make two-out pitches in the state tournament,” Tucker said. “… I thought Logan Martin did a great job; Mason was phenomenal; and Gage, with runners on base in Game 1 and Game 2, did a great job. If we want to keep winning ballgames in the state tournament, that’s what we’re going to have to continue to do.”
Barnett’s stellar showing in the opener also gave a glimpse into just how dominant the Canes have been on the mound. He struck out a dozen batters and allowed just one hit. Working fast throughout the contest, the senior reaffirmed his position as the team’s ace.
“Coach Tuck talks about it a lot, ‘You can play with emotion but don’t be emotional,'” Barnett said. “That’s what I really tried to work on today. If the ump doesn’t call a pitch I think is a strike, don’t react just go back to the next pitch. That was just the mentality I had today was next pitch.”
SOMETHING TO WORK ON — Despite having won all four postseason games, all 12 home games and its past 13 games overall, Cartersville is far from flawless. The Canes are definitely a top-notch team — currently ranked second in 4A, eighth in the state and 57th in the nation, according to MaxPreps — but there’s always room for improvement.
Based on Thursday’s performance, defense and bunting will climb to the top of the list of things to focus on in practice ahead of Wednesday’s quarterfinal series doubleheader against Northside-Columbus.
According to Cartersville’s GameChanger account, which isn’t exactly official, the Canes entered the series with no errors in their past four games. However, the defense made miscues in each game Thursday.
Early in Game 1, a throwing error by Smith at third base on a really tough play didn’t come back to hurt, as Barnett wound up coaxing a double-play ball. Cartersville had two errors in the second game. Neither ultimately cost the Canes a run, but a miscue on a potential game-ending double play in the seventh almost allowed the Falcons to rally for the win.
“You knew it was going to be that kind of 1-0, 2-0 type game. We knew both games would be that way,” Tucker said. “Thankful that we were able to do enough offensively, pitched and played enough defense. We didn’t play our best defense today, made some errors. But we won, so we’re moving on, and hopefully, we’ll get a chance to correct it and see what we can do in the next round.”
As for the bunting, Cartersville clearly took the approach to play for one run instead of the big inning against a team with outstanding pitching. That being a said, a team that rarely attempts to sacrifice in games looked out of sorts, when attempting to lay down a bunt against Flowery Branch.
“We were 0-for-4 at that today,” Tucker said. “I’m glad we can laugh about it now, because I sure wasn’t laughing about it during the game. I like to swing the bat and be aggressive, but in a game like that, you have to be smart about your opportunities. You just don’t know how many you’re going to get.
“It’s not for lack of trying. Let’s be honest, it’s tough getting up there against an 88 MPH fastball and bunt it. But we have to do it, if we want to keep on playing, so we’ll get back out and practice that a little bit.”
BACK IN THE GROOVE — Through Cartersville’s first 26 games of the season, Morris had appeared in 18 of them. Entering Thursday, though, he hadn’t pitched in a contest since April 15.
He wound up pitching in both game Thursday. He needed just two pitches to record the final out in the first, but the rust showed in Game 2. Morris allowed three hits in the second game, including working himself into a base-loaded, one-out spot in the seventh inning.
A strikeout and deep flyout followed to help the Canes punch a ticket to the Elite Eight.
“It really calmed me,” Morris said of the strikeout. “I have to admit, bases-loaded, one out, tying run on third is not the situation you want to be in, when everybody is looking to you. … Thank God for my teammates saving my life. I couldn’t do it without them, honestly.”
To be fair, Morris has saved Cartersville on way more than one occasion this season. He did it again in Game 1, when he entered with runners at first and second and two outs in the seventh.
What made his flawless appearance even more impressive was that he, frankly, had conceded that he wouldn’t be needed in the game. Barnett had cruised through the first 6 2/3 innings, including striking out the first two batters of the seventh.
But then, he just hit a wall, and Morris was summoned — not from the bullpen but from the dugout — to put out the fire.
“After he came out of the sixth, I didn’t think there was any way possible for me to go in for the seventh,” Morris said of Barnett. “The way the inning started going, I never thought I would have came in. I was just talking to coach regularly, like we were about to get the third out and be done.
“It all started happening at one time, and then I had to go out there. I was just standing there [in the dugout]; I wasn’t even in the bullpen; and I had to warm up out there [on the mound]. That was crazy.”
While Tucker probably doesn’t want to have to rely on throwing Morris every single game, the LaGrange College signee will be hoping he’s called upon at least once each series moving forward in hopes of maintaining his sharpness.
“I like having my groove of pitching from game to game,” Morris said. “But I understand how good our pitchers have been pitching and how great that is for our team. Me working in practice and how good our pitching coach is, Asa Williams, I came out there with my stuff and just had to compete. That’s just what we had to do. I’m thankful for my teammates picking me up, when I didn’t make the best of pitches.”
ADVANCEMENT OPPORTUNITIES — By the time Cartersville’s second game had come to an end, the Canes already knew the identity of their quarterfinal opponent. Northside, Columbus had finished off a two-game sweep of Perry earlier in the evening to set up the meeting, which will again take place at Richard Bell Field.
Tucker didn’t have a full scouting report off hand, but he seemed fairly sure that his team wouldn’t see two left-handed pitchers set to attend major college baseball programs like Flowery Branch boasted.
“They’re two of the best in the state,” Tucker said of Armstrong and Tennessee commit Zander Sechrist. “Their numbers back it up — ERA is sub-1.00, a million strikeouts, don’t walk people. It’s hard to score on them. It really is. To win two games, it’s mentally tough and physically tough. … Just a good baseball series. Just fortunate and glad to come out on top.”
Even facing the dominant southpaws, Adams said the Canes always had confidence in their chances to advance past the Falcons.
“They were solid on the mound,” he said, “but I think, as a team, we worked too hard to let any numbers or any stats they have bother us mentally.”
Even if Northside sends out pitchers at or above the level of Flowery Branch’s duo, Cartersville will absolutely believe it has a great opportunity to return to the Final Four. Tucker, though, knows it won’t be an easy quarterfinal matchup.
“They’re going to be good,” he said. “We have 28 wins now, and I think they have 26. You’ve got teams with 54 combined wins. It’s going to be a heckuva series, just like this one was.”