MESQUITE -- Carthage is back in the regional semifinal round for the first time since the Bulldogs' 2009 state championship season.

The Bulldogs, ranked ninth in Class 3A by, scored all their runs in the first three innings and limited No. 13 China Spring to three hits in the first six frames in a 5-2 Game 2 victory Saturday afternoon to sweep their Class 3A Region III baseball quarterfinal series at J.J. Tillery Field.

Carthage (29-7) -- which lost in the second, third, and second rounds, respectively, each of the last three seasons after winning its third state championship in school history in 2009 -- faces No. 15 Silsbee in the Region III semifinals next week. Silsbee beat Orangefield 2-1 in a quarterfinal series in Vidor.

China Spring finished the year at 26-11. Carthage beat the Cougars 2-0 in Friday's Game 1.

Six of Carthage's seven hits came in the first three innings, along with all four of China Spring's errors.

Beaux Guilbeau's first-inning RBI single scored Samuel Chhor, who was 2-for-4 with two runs scored from the leadoff spot. After China Spring's Jackson McMullen tied the game with a first-inning RBI sacrifice fly, Carthage plated three in the second on RBI singles from K.J. Harkider and Kolby Blissett and an error that scored Chhor. Two of the runs that gave the Dawgs a 4-1 lead were unearned.

Harkrider had a nice afternoon from the 9-spot going 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run.

"We swung it early," said Carthage coach Jim Goldman, who's in his fifth year leading the Bulldogs. "Sammy had a big night. K.J. had a big night. Jared Twomey kept drawing throws and we got a sac fly out of that off Jack Morris' back and that gets us a run."

Twomey ran for Guilbeau, who started the third with a walk. China Spring pitcher Blake Bottoms was aware of Twomey's speed, which is among the best on the team, so he tried to keep Twomey close at first. On the fourth pickoff attempt, Bottoms threw wide into Tillery Field's expansive foul territory, allowing Twomey to advance to third, where Morris knocked him in with a sacrifice fly to left field for a 5-1 Carthage lead.

Carthage right-hander William Rittenberry held China Spring to one hit in the first four innings, but hit four batters in the first three frames. Rittenberry, who entered the game with a team-high eight hit batsmen in 52 2/3 innings, hit five in the game.

Nevertheless, the junior and his defensive mates minimized damage in every difficult situation. Two hit batters came with two outs in the second, but Rittenberry got leadoff hitter Mason George to ground out. Another hit-by-pitch led off the third, but Rittenberry induced a two-out popout to Blissett at shortstop with two runners in scoring position to end the Cougar threat.

China Spring's biggest threat came in the fifth, when George led off with an infield single before Carthage's lone error and Rittenberry's fifth HBP loaded the bases with no outs. But Rittenberry struck out the next batter before surrendering an RBI sac fly to center from Tyler Smith to cut Carthage's lead to 5-2. With two outs and two runners still on base, Rittenberry got a 4-3 groundout to end the inning.

The only hit-by-pitch that scored was George, who led off the bottom of the first with an HBP before scoring on a McMullen fielder's choice.

Goldman had a simple explanation for his team's ability to work its way out of jams.

"The guys played great. We scrimmage daily and they've been in these situations before. That's the best I can come up with," he said. "William battled. For about two innings we couldn't throw a breaking ball and then all of a sudden he hits a guy with a fastball. Four of the five hit-by-pitches, one was with a slider and three were with curveballs. But then he found it again in the fifth, sixth, and seventh when he was getting his offspeed stuff across."

Rittenberry improved to 9-1 to tie JayDon Day (9-4) for the team lead in wins. Day won Game 1 on Friday in a 2-0 complete-game three-hitter. Rittenberry had four strikeouts and no walks and enters the fourth round with a team-best 0.82 earned run average. Day, who has a team-high four saves, possesses a 1.49 ERA.

Bottoms got better as the game progressed. He held Carthage to one hit in the final four innings and finished with two strikeouts and three walks. Two of the five runs he allowed were unearned.

Tucker Johnson, who singled twice and was hit by a pitch, had China Spring's only multi-hit game. His two-out, bottom-of-the-seventh single preceded McMullen's single to give the Cougars two runners, but Rittenberry ended the game by inducing a flyout to Chhor in center.

Goldman was proud of his pitching and defense.

"They were putting a lot of balls in play, which we thought they would," he said. "I thought the kids played great. They battled their tails off like they always do. JayDon pitched a great one last night and William followed him up. Now we get to practice another week and keep it rolling."

Carthage joins District 20-3A mate Diboll as two of the four teams remaining in 3A Region III. Diboll beat eighth-ranked 20-3A champion Lufkin Hudson 3-0 in a Friday one-gamer at Angelina College to advance to play Huffman Hargrave.

The Carthage/Silsbee winner and Diboll/Huffman Hargrave winner play each other for the Region III championship and a trip to the UIL 3A state tournament at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Austin.


Class 3A Region III
Game 2

Carthage 5, China Spring 2

J.J. Tillery Field, Mesquite

Carthage (29-7) -- 131 000 0 -- 5 7 1
China Spring (26-11) -- 100 010 0 -- 2 5 4

C -- William Rittenberry and Beaux Guilbeau
CS -- Blake Bottoms and Mason George

WP -- Rittenberry (9-1)
LP -- Bottoms