For years, Cartersville and Columbus have danced around each other, meeting on an almost-annual basis to renew one of the state's best rivalries.
The prize almost always ends up being the same:
A state title.
Beginning at 2 p.m. today at Randy Jordan field, Columbus and Cartersville will meet again in the Georgia High School Association Class AAA state playoffs for the sixth time in the past eight seasons.
"It's not your typical third-round matchup, but that's the way it goes," Blue Devils coach Bobby Howard said. "I'd rather it was a lot of other teams than them."
Columbus has won three of the series between the two teams; Cartersville took the other two. Four of those series went the distance; three were decided by two runs or less in Game 3.
Most importantly, four of those series produced the eventual state champion, including Cartersville's victory in 2009, the only time the two teams have met in a state final.
After sweeping each of their first two opponents, the Blue Devils (27-3) and the Purple Hurricanes (24-5) know exactly what's coming next:
An intense series.
"It's a series neither one of us looks forward to," Cartersville coach Stuart Chester said. "When you mention the word Columbus, you think of championships. If you want to win one, you have to go through Columbus."
And the Blue Devils have their own healthy dose of respect for Chester's
When Kyle Carter, Columbus' likely Game 1 starter and leadoff hitter, was a freshman, he played on the team that Cartersville beat by coming back and winning two straight after an opening-game loss to deny the Blue Devils the state title.
That's the last time a Columbus season didn't end in a state championship.
"They've been a rival for me ever since," Carter said. "It's always tough when you have to play Cartersville."
What makes the recurring battles between the two talented teams so good is that both teams rarely have any weaknesses, a lot like the two editions set to play today.
Both teams have deep pitching staffs, powerful lineups and defenses that play mistake-free baseball.
Cartersville lost its top two pitchers from 2011, but Kendall Hawkins has stepped into the No. 1 spot and been a stopper, and a group comprising Tyler Will, Trey Graves and Ty Fowler has done a good job behind him. Hawkins will start the first game, but Chester said the Game 2 starter still hasn't been decided.
Columbus counters with the 1-2 punch of Kyle Carter and JT Phillips, who have turned in dominant performances and come within a single batter of tossing a no-hitter in the playoffs.
Michael Goss, Tripp Jamieson and Zach Ross have all homered in the playoffs for Cartersville. Carter, Phillips and Josh Lester all went deep in Columbus' opening game against Arabia Mountain.
"I think our guys have more respect for them than most programs," Howard said. "These guys were here when they knocked us out of the state championship."
Unfortunately for the state's baseball fans, the Columbus-Cartersville playoff matchups will come to an end with this week's series, at least for the time being.
Next season, Columbus goes back up to Class AAAA. and Cartersville will remain behind.
But there's enough mutual respect between the two programs that they likely will play each other during the regular season.
"When the reclassification came out, the first thing I looked at was that we needed to play out of region," Chester said. "Everybody in Class AAA took a big sigh of relief when they saw Columbus was moving up, but I'd like to continue the rivalry."
A good rivalry should never go to waste.
2005: Class AAA Quarterfinals
Game 1: Cartersville 4, Columbus 1
Game 2: Columbus 11, Cartersville 0
Game 3: Columbus 14, Cartersville 9
2006: Class AAA Quarterfinals
Game 1: Cartersville 6, Columbus 4
Game 2: Columbus 1, Cartersville 0
Game 3: Columbus 8, Cartersville 6
2008: Class AAA Quarterfinals
Game 1: Cartersville 7, Columbus 3
Game 2: Columbus 13, Cartersville 2
Game 3: Cartersville 10, Columbus 8
2009: Class AAA Finals
Game 1: Columbus 9, Cartersville 4
Game 2: Cartersville 18, Columbus 11
Game 3: Cartersville 7, Columbus 5
2010: Class AAA Quarterfinals
Game 1: Columbus 6, Cartersville 0
Game 2: Columbus 8, Cartersville 5