CARTERSVILLE - They took the champs to the limit, but in the end, it was the Cartersville Purple Hurricanes finding a way to keep their hopes for a repeat title alive.
The Callaway Cavaliers, hoping to earn an invitation to the final four, instead watched the homestanding Purple Hurricanes walk away with a 7-2 victory in the third and deciding game in their Class AAA playoff series.
Cartersville, which is trying to win its seventh state title since 2001, will take on Buford in the final four on Monday.
Callaway, meanwhile, closed with a 25-6 record in a season that produced plenty of special moments, including a region championship, as well as a pair of series wins in the state playoffs.
“I’m proud of our kids. I thought they fought their butts off,” Callaway coach Dusty Hubbard said. “There ain’t a bad thing I can say about them. I wish the outcome was a little bit different, but you’re going to win some, and you’re going to lose some. Tonight, it wasn’t quite good enough.”
The game started out with a bang, with Cody Mimbs delivering a two-run home run in the first inning to put Callaway on top 2-0, but Cartersville scored three runs in the second inning to take a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
The Cavaliers had plenty of chances to put more runs on the board, but they were unable to come through with a key hit with men on base.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, took advantage of their scoring chances, and they made some outstanding plays in the field when the Cavaliers were threatening.
“They give you all they’ve got. Tonight, it just wasn’t enough,” Hubbard said. “(The Hurricanes) played well. They found the holes. They got some timely hits.”
The teams split a doubleheader on Tuesday to force the Game 3.
Callaway won the series opener 1-0 behind a brilliant pitching performance from Perry Keith, and Cartersville bounced back to win the second game 4-3.
Game 3 was supposed to be on Wednesday, but it was pushed back a day because of rain.
The Cavaliers were feeling good early in Thursday’s game.
Mimbs gave the Callaway fans plenty to cheer about when he launched a ball over the outfield fence for a two-run home run in the top of the first inning, with Austin Garrett also scoring on the play.
The Cavaliers had a chance to put more runs on the board in the inning.
Chase Freeman was hit by a pitch, Kevin Craft singled, and Keith reached when his bunt was misplayed.
With the bases loaded and one out, Cartersville pitcher Destin Herren managed to get out of the inning without any more runs scoring, and Callaway’s lead was 2-0.
Mimbs, Callaway’s starting pitcher, retired the Purple Hurricanes without any runs scoring in the first inning, but the story was a different one in the bottom of the second.
Riley Richards led off with a walk, and Herren reached on a fielder’s choice on a play that probably should have been a double play.
David Darnell reached on a single to put runners on first and second, and Mimbs got the second out of the inning on a flyout, and that would have been the end of the inning if the Cavaliers had converted the double play.
The next batter, Mark Quattelbaum, put the Hurricanes on the board with an RBI single, and Clifton Dempsey followed with a two-run double to put the Cavaliers in a 3-2 hole.
The Hurricanes padded their lead with two runs in the bottom of the third, and once again they got it done with two outs.
Darnell’s base hit brought in a run to give Cartersville a 4-2 lead, and Hubbard made the call to the bullpen and brought freshman Dylan Johnson into the game.
Garrett Rutledge’s RBI single plated another run, and after a walk, Hubbard made another pitching change, with Keith coming into the game.
Keith got a strikeout to limit the damage, and Cartersville’s lead was 5-2 through three innings.
After a scoreless fourth inning, Callaway had a golden opportunity to bite into Cartersville’s lead in the top of the fifth.
Johnson and Nick O’Berry led off the inning with back-to-back walks, and Cartersville coach Stuart Chester then went to his bullpen, with Lane Wilson coming into the game.
Garrett greeted Wilson with a base hit, and the Cavaliers were in business with the bases loaded and no outs, and Mimbs was at the plate.
Mimbs took a Wilson offering and ripped the ball to the left side of the field, and it looked it was headed toward left field for what likely would have been a two-run single.
Instead, Dempsey soared high into the air from his shortstop position to make a remarkable catch.
Dempsey then made a heads-up play when he whipped a throw to third base for a double play, and the Cavaliers went from having the bases loaded and no outs, to having runners on first and second with two outs.
“That play right there was a momentum shift,” Hubbard said.
Wilson got out of the inning with a groundout, with Dempsey making another nice play, and Cartersville still had a three-run lead.
That lead grew to five in the bottom of the fifth, with Cartersville once again coming through with a two-out hit.
With the bases loaded, Brent Arnold’s base hit brought in two runs, and the Purple Hurricanes were up 7-2, and they’d also managed to score a run against Keith for the first time in the series.
Keith threw seven shutout innings in a 1-0 victory in Game 1.
The Cavaliers had base runners in the sixth and seventh innings, but Wilson didn’t allow any more runs to score.
In the top of the seventh, with two men on base, Wilson got a strikeout to end the game, and the season for the Cavaliers.
“It’s a tough place to play, but our kids had no fear. They got after it,” Hubbard said. “That’s something to be said for them. This was just one of those days.”