The Cartersville Purple Hurricanes rode the arms of a consistent pitching staff and the power of their bats to sweep Heritage-Catoosa 6-5 and 10-2 Tuesday night at Richard Bell Field to reach their ninth state championship series in school history.
Following their semifinal sweep, the Hurricanes will face Jefferson (26-11) for the Class 4A state title starting with a Monday evening doubleheader at 5:00 p.m. at State Mutual Stadium in Rome. The Dragons knocked off top-ranked Blessed Trinity in the other semifinal, 10-7 and 2-0 Tuesday.
Cartersville last won a state title in 2013 with the Class AAA championship. The Canes won back-to-back AAA titles in 2008 and 2009 and took three titles in a row 2001-2003. The first two were in Class AA. 2003 was in AAA.
In Game 1 Tuesday, Cartersville answered Heritage every time the Generals put runs on the scoreboard.
Heritage went up 2-0 in the top of the first, but Cartersville responded with three to take a 3-2 lead. In the fourth inning, Heritage tied the score 3-3, but the Canes went back ahead 4-3 in the bottom of the frame. The Generals then took a 5-4 lead in the top of the sixth only to have Cartersville plate two runs for an eventual 6-5 win.
Cole Wilcox, a likely first round MLB draft selection, singled home the Generals’ first run. Josh Gibson then gave Heritage a 2-0 advantage with a sacrifice fly to score Johnathan Hickman who had walked earlier in the inning.
Jake Gooch of the Hurricanes smacked a two-run home run in the bottom of the first and Jordan Wilkie singled home Devin Warner for a 3-2 lead. Warner had doubled to get in scoring position.
Gibson singled and scored on a Nolan Letgus triple to tie the game 3-3 in the fourth inning, but the Canes answered. Preston Welchel walked and moved to third on an Anthony Seigler single. Welchel then scored on a passed ball to give Cartersville a 4-3 lead.
Heritage got a single from Wilcox, a walk by Gibson, and a fielder’s choice to move runners to second and third in the top of the sixth with one out. From there, the Generals plated a pair of runs and went ahead 5-4 on a bunt by Blake Bryan and an infield error by the Canes.
Cartersville responded again, however, with two runs that proved to be the difference in the game.
Welchel walked with one out and scored on an RBI double by Seigler. Josh Davis then delivered the game-winning RBI on a double into left field.
Seigler, the Canes' own potential MLB first-round pick, was then called on to close out the top of the seventh from the mound. Throwing as a right-hander, the Canes’ senior got a groundout and a pair of strikeouts to secure the 6-5 win.
Wilcox was the only Generals hitter with two hits. Luke Grant, Gibson (RBI), and Letzgus (triple, RBI) had the other hits.
To pace the Canes in Game 1, Seigler was 3-for-4 with two doubles and one RBI. Gooch had a two-run homer. Davis had a double that proved to be the game-winning RBI. Wilkie also had a hit and an RBI. Warner doubled and starting pitcher Mason Barnett contributed a hit.
Barnett (4 IP, 3ER, 4H, 1BB, 4K) completed four innings from the mound before giving way to eventual winner, Gage Morris (2 IP, 2R, 0ER, 1H, 1BB, 2K). Seigler (1 IP, 0R, 0H, 1BB, 2K) picked up a 15-pitch save.
Wilcox (6 IP, 6R, 5ER, 8H, 3BB, 5K) was saddled with the Game 1 loss for Heritage.
In Game 2, pitcher Cohen Wilbanks kept Heritage off balance for six innings and the Canes' bats blew open a tight game with eight runs over the final two innings for a 10-2 win and a series sweep.
Playing as the home team, the Generals took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning but Cartersville tied the game in the top of the third on back-to-back homers by Seigler and Davis.
Heritage starting pitcher Tripp Church took a 2-2 tie into the top of the sixth when the Canes’ bats came alive.
Barnett gave the Canes a 3-2 lead with a run-scoring single to drive home Seigler. Gooch followed with a triple for another run and Warner made it 5-2 with a double into center field. After a force play, a single by JP Martin led to two more runs and Cartersville was in control, 7-2.
Wilkie doubled home two more runs in the top of the seventh and Martin drove in a run with another hit.
Church (5.1 IP, 5ER, 5H, 1BB, 9K), who was lifted with one out in the fifth, suffered the Game 2 pitching loss for Heritage. Justin Morris (1.2 IP, 5R, 4ER, 5H, 2BB, 4K) entered to close out the Generals’ work on the mound.
Meanwhile, Wilbanks was very effective for the Hurricanes. He needed 93 pitches to get through his six innings, but threw 62 for strikes and fanned eight. He scattered six hits and only walked one.
Morris, who appeared on the mound in both games and was the winner in Game 1, closed out the final inning. He allowed a hit, but no runs and struck out two.
For the series, Seigler paced the Canes with a 6-for-7 performance that included a home run, two doubles, a walk, three runs scored, and two RBI. He also recorded a pitching save in the opener.
Six other Hurricanes had two hits in the series including Davis (HR and double, two RBI); Gooch (HR and triple, three RBI); Warner (two doubles, one RBI); Wilkie (double, three RBI); Martin (two RBI); and Barnett (RBI).
Wilcox had three hits and two RBI in the series for the Generals. Lance Dockery had three hits in Game 2 and Luke Grant had one hit in each game.
Heritage-Catoosa, who won the Region 6-4A championship, finished the season 31-8.
Cartersville improved to 31-8 heading into the state finals series.