Cartersville softball erupts late to defeat Cedartown
In a game between two softball teams as evenly matched as Cartersville and Cedartown, it often comes down to one key half-inning. In Tuesday’s matchup at Cartersville Baseball Complex, that frame proved to be the bottom of the sixth.
The combination of Cartersville’s speed and Cedartown’s shaky defense led to a five-run outburst to turn a 3-3 tie into an unassailable 8-3 advantage to capture a vital Region 5-AAAA win and remain in the thick of the playoff race.
Cartersville (7-7, 4-3) and Cedartown (9-10, 4-3) now sit in a three-way tie for third place in the region with Chapel Hill. With the Canes having edged out the Bulldogs by a 5-4 margin in the first meeting, Cartersville holds a head-to-head tiebreaker over Cedartown.
“These girls are probably tired of hearing me talk about how big this game was going to be for us,” Canes head coach Shannon Suarez said. “The head-to-head, run differential and all the different factors that come into play down at the end with region seeding time.
“I was glad they came to play today. … I’m so proud of them today.”
Although the Canes never trailed in the contest, the final score certainly flattered Cartersville.
A single by Cio Seigler opened the decisive inning, but the momentum really started to turn after a one-out error allowed Rylie Harris to reach and Seigler to advance to third. Pinch runner Emery Jenkins slowly stole second base, drawing a throw from the Cedartown catcher. Seigler took the opportunity and raced home to give the Canes the lead.
Consecutive singles by Elizabeth Nelson, Campbell Rogers and Lauren McElhaney combined with a few steals and another Bulldogs error helped push the home team into a 6-3 lead. The final dagger came from an expected source, as Anna Kate McElhaney’s two-run single to right field set the final margin and gave the left-handed hitting junior four RBIs in the game.
“Working the count, getting girls on base, getting first-and-third situations and trying to take advantage of a couple miscues and them not executing well,” Suarez said of how the Canes orchestrated the rally. “It worked out well for us. We were able to move girls into scoring position and rely on girls coming through with hits.”
In that regard, Cartersville had been executing well from the opening inning, when the team struck for two quick runs.
Nelson and Rogers opened the bottom of the first with back-to-back hits. With runners at second and third, McKinley Chada hit an RBI groundout to the second baseman. Anna Kate McElhaney followed with a bloop single to score Lauren McElhaney.
Cedartown put together a two-out rally to scratch across its first run in the top of the third, but Cartersville got that run right back in the home half. Rogers and Lauren McElhaney hit a couple of line-drive singles before Chada — the team’s cleanup hitter — bunted them over. A grounder by Anna Kate McElhaney allowed Rogers to score for a 3-1 edge.
“Whatever the situation was, using each girl to their potential and doing what’s best for the team in that moment,” Suarez said. “If it’s making our No. 4 girl bunt or our No. 9 girl hitting runners in, on any given day, it may be something different. I think we’ve come a long way, where I have that confidence and I can rely on the girls.”
In the fifth, the Bulldogs fought back to tie the game against Cartersville pitcher Ava Perkins. The freshman saw the inning begin with a funky grounder that struck the field ump and later saw an intentional walk work against her.
Even still, Perkins kept her composure, coaxing a groundball with the bases loaded to escape the inning.
“I wasn’t going to let No. 22, [Marycille] Brumby, beat us,” Suarez said of the intentional walk that preceded the game-tying hit. “She’s probably the best hitter in the league, and I was going to force anybody else in that lineup to beat us. Credit to them, because the No. 4 girl did. …
“A lot of credit to [Perkins]. She made a great pitch there.”
Overall, Perkins allowed three runs on seven hits and two walks. She struck out a pair, while throwing just under 100 pitches.
“I gambled a little bit with her, because McKinley threw the first game and beat Cedartown,” Suarez said. “They’ve gotten better, and they needed to see someone different. Ava has a little bit more velocity, so I thought that played in our favor and that’s why I went with her. A lot of credit to her.”
Offensively, Nelson and Rogers each finished 3-for-4 with two runs scored. Lauren McElhaney went 2-for-3 with a walk, two runs scored and an RBI. Anna Kate McElhaney had two hits and the aforementioned quartet of ribbies.
Defensively, the Canes made no errors and even turned a 4-6-3 double play to end the top of the second inning.
Cartersville will need to be crisp in all areas again Thursday, when they hit the road to face region-leading Central, Carroll. The Lions handed the Canes their only blowout loss of the year in a 12-1 romp on Aug. 13.
However, Cartersville is a much different team than it was three weeks ago. A lineup that typically features three to four freshmen has started to sort itself out, and the pitching staff, which again is a trio of ninth-graders, looks more comfortable by the inning.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier moving forward with Central, Chapel Hill and a doubleheader with LaGrange still to come. But Suarez seems confident her ever-improving group has what it takes to return to the Class 4A state playoffs.
“I think things are starting to click,” she said. “When you’ve got everyone on the same page and everyone is working together, I think this team is going to make a run here at the end.
“I hope they understand that we’re right here in it with a 4-3 record. Everyone is battling two through six in our region, so it’s tight. It’s going to be day-to-day, grinding out wins and seeing who can come out on top that day.”