RINGGOLD, Ga.-Cory Cullum had the two biggest hits of the Georgia Region 7-AAA first-place baseball showdown Friday-two distinctively different hits.
Cullum's hustle single in the third helped key a three-run inning, and his three-run homer in the fifth was needed insurance as Cartersville downed Ringgold 7-3 at Bill Womack Field in front of a standing-room-only crowd.
The Purple Hurricanes (19-3, 18-1) now are alone in first place in 7-AAA, having swept the Tigers (20-2, 17-2). A win Monday against Allatoona (also with two league losses) would all but clinch the regular-season title and top playoff seed.
Ringgold still could finish with the top seed if the 'Canes lose two of their remaining three region games or allow more than two runs in a loss to Allatoona, which provided their only 7-AAA defeat so far.
Since the Tigers have swept Allatoona, a Cartersville loss Monday likely would create a three-way tie at the end of region play next Friday. If neither of the three teams has a clear head-to-head advantage over the other two, the one with the fewest runs allowed in their matchups would gain the top seed.
"We've got to have some help," Ringgold coach Brent Tucker said. "That's the strange thing about baseball. I've seen stranger things happen, though. We've got to put this one behind us and get better in a couple of areas. We've got the state playoffs coming up and we've got to find a way to improve."
The Tigers out-hit the 'Canes 7-6, but a couple of missed opportunities against Cartersville ace Sam Howard (11 strikeouts, one walk) and a couple of fielding miscues combined to make the difference.
Taylor Wilson started the scoring for Cartersville with a second-inning solo homer off Ringgold starter Corey Kafka, whose wildness (three walks) in the third inning led to three more runs. Cullum drove in the third run of the inning when he beat out a routine ground ball to the left side of the infield with two on and two out.
The Tigers showed some life in the fourth. Allen Mocahbee, whose triple led to their first run in the third, doubled in a pair of runs with two out and the bases loaded, but a perfect relay throw cut down the would-be tying run to end the threat.
Ahead by just one, Cullum smacked reliever Colton Cross's first pitch for a two-out three-run homer in the fifth. A wild pitch on a strikeout to leadoff batter Luke Daniel set up Cullum for the killing blow.
"Cory is just a hard-working young man and he proved it tonight," Cartersville coach Stuart Chester said. "He can fly, and he hustled to beat out that hit in the third. That's what you always try to teach the kids, that hustle wins games. This is a great win over a very talented team. We've now got to take care of business next week."
Ringgold had one more big chance, loading the bases against Howard in the sixth with two out. However, he regrouped to get pinch-hitter Andy Mocahbee to fly out to center. He retired the Tigers in order in the seventh.
"We made a couple of mistakes that led to a couple of runs, and you can't do that against a team like that," Tucker said. "Also, we couldn't get the big hit when we needed it. We had the bases loaded a couple of times, but we just couldn't get the big one. A hit in those situations and it could have been different.
"There's no shame losing to those guys. They have a great program."