RINGGOLD, Ga. - There's a reason established high school baseball coaches load their nonregion schedules with elite competition. It may blot the record a bit, but when crunch time hits a battle-tested team will know how to respond.
Cartersville, the defending Class AAA champions who started the season 2-7, proved the validity of that approach Wednesday by rallying from four runs down to defeat Ringgold, 5-4. The win puts the Purple Hurricanes (14-8, 10-1) within one win of clinching the region title, while Ringgold (16-6, 9-2) must win once more to earn the No. 2 playoff seed.
The Tigers jumped on the visitors with a single run in the first on Logan Baldwin's RBI single and three more in the third when Zach Morris hit a three-run homer. However, the bats went silent as Cartersville reliever Garrett Rutledge kept his team in the game and was rewarded with the win as the 'Canes won on Brent Arnold's sixth-inning three-run homer.
"It was a closely-matched game," a disappointed Ringgold coach Brent Tucker said. "We had a couple of opportunities to put more runs on the board, but we didn't get it done. Cartersville is such a good team that when you've got them you have to keep adding runs because they're going to make their run. It was an emotional game and we have another one tomorrow at Adairsville, so we have to get over it as soon as we get on the bus."
Ringgold starter Baldwin had the 'Canes eating our of his hand early, facing the minimum through three innings. A wild pitch scored Clifton Dempsey with Cartersville's first run in the fourth and a two-out infield error made it a 4-2 game in the fifth, but Baldwin escaped and left the bases loaded.
He would not be so lucky in the sixth as the strike zone began to elude the senior left-hander. A walk and his own error on a bunt attempt put runners on first and third to start the inning and Arnold followed with his go-ahead homer to left-center, stunning the Tigers and turning the game around. Rutledge, who would allow only two hits and one run in 4 2/3 innings pitched, worked through a leadoff single in the sixth and set the Tigers down in order in the seventh to seal the win.
"It's always an interesting game for the fans, but I know for me and Brent it's not too fun," Cartersville coach Stuart Chester said. "We sit down in the fall and go over our schedule and we had a plan in playing basically all Class six-A teams. We lost a few, but we were tested in those situations against great teams. I preach to my kids that it doesn't matter if you're four, five or six runs down to not give up and stay steady."
Hayden Moss had two of Ringgold's six hits, while Dempsey had half of Cartersville's four hits.
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or at 423-757-6296.