RINGGOLD, Ga. - Kyle Carter once was seen as a hero in every part of America.
Today the star of the 2006 Little League World Series championship for Columbus, Ga., will get a different kind of reception as he leads the Blue Devils into Ringgold for the best-of-three GHSA Class AAA baseball state finals. Today's doubleheader starts at 4 p.m.
Carter, a senior leadoff batter who pitches and plays outfield, is one of the most feared players in the state. Opposing teams often have chosen to walk him intentionally or dare him to swing at balls.
The strategy has affected Carter's statistics, though most players' power numbers have been reduced with the mandated BBCOR bats this season.
After hitting .470 with 22 home runs and 43 RBIs last year, the University of Georgia signee and professional prospect has batted .326 with 14 homers and 31 RBIs this year. He's also walked 25 times, but No. 2 hitter J.T. Phillips, who was Carter's Little League teammate, is nearly as dangerous.
Cartersville walked Carter four times in a doubleheader sweep in round two of the playoffs, and Phillips hit two homers and drove in seven runs.
The Tigers know all too well about Carter's prowess. In 2010 he hit two homers in a state-finals win over Ringgold, and in last season's round-two deciding game in Columbus, he hit three homers to help end Ringgold's season.
Tigers coach Brent Tucker said if given a chance he would pitch differently to Carter, but as the title series draws near, he's still formulating the strategy.
"We're going to try and figure something out," Tucker said. "We've got to make better pitches than we did last year with them. But I think we're a completely different team and we can handle the situation."
Ringgold ace Corey Kafka, who was the victim of two of Carter's game-three blasts in 2011, agrees with his coach that the Tigers are much different this year mentally and sees no reason to give in, adding, "We're not changing anything; we're going right at them."
Pitching around Carter is trouble not just because of Phillips, who also has committed to Georgia. The Blue Devils (31-4) are loaded with experience and power.
Josh Lester (Missouri), Spencer Draws (Air Force), Pierce Ressmeyer (Georgia Perimeter) and Keith Sims (LaGrange) have college deals lined up, and two others, Anthony Padron and Joey Brown, have had offers but have yet to commit.
Columbus also holds a decided edge in state championships, 10 to none, a fact not lost on Ringgold players. Senior Wright Hackett is well versed in the program's history. The son of former star Roger Hackett and nephew of Chuck and the late Joe Hackett, he's heard of the great Tigers teams that came up just short, and he knows what a title would mean.
"Baseball has quite a tradition here, and we're kind of like a symbol for Ringgold," Wright Hackett said. "I've got family that's played here forever. It's never been done here, so we want to make history."
The Tigers are counting on two factors in their favor as they try again for that elusive title: the confidence gained by winning on the road last week against nationally ranked and previously unbeaten Gainseville and the fact that, for the first time, they get to host Columbus at the rebuilt Bill Womack Field.
"This team has been there, from playing for the state title two years ago in Columbus to the series last year to Gainesville last week," Tucker said. "They came through great in rough territory in Gainesville, and that maturity we're seeing on the field gives me all the confidence in the team.
"And being here is huge. We're a better team here and it's been our goal all year to host, and now here it is. That it's Columbus only seems right."