Taking on the champs
LaGrange ready for challenge
by By Kevin Eckleberry Sports Editor
The LaGrange Lady Grangers haven’t exactly gotten the friendliest of draws in the state playoffs the past few years.
In 2011, after surviving a first-round series, LaGrange lost to eventual state champion Oconee County in the second round of the playoffs.
Last season, LaGrange played Madison County in the opening round of the playoffs.
After beating LaGrange, Madison County went on to lose in the state-championship game.
Now, as the Lady Grangers begin their 2013 state-playoff run, they’re facing another monumental task.
LaGrange’s first-round opponent is Northwest Whitfield, which won the state championship a year ago.
Northwest Whitfield, which is located just south of Chattanooga, will host the best-of-three series.
The teams will play two games today beginning at 5 p.m., and if needed, a third game would be played Thursday.
“They have a lot of experience,” LaGrange head coach Jan Jones said. “They know how to win. They won it last year. They beat Madison County who put us out.”
Northwest did lose a handful of key players from last year’s championship team, though, including its standout pitcher.
“They have some experience coming back, but it’s a different team,” Jones said.
It is still a dangerous ball club.
Northwest is 28-6, and it came within a whisker of winning a third straight region championship.
In the Region 7-AAAA championship game, Northwest lost to Heritage 8-7 in eight innings.
Jones was at that game, and she was impressed with both teams.
“Either team would have been tough to beat,” Jones said.
As it is, LaGrange has drawn the defending champs in the first round, and as daunting as that task seems, the Lady Grangers have been playing superb softball of late so they could be up to the challenge.
Since losing 4-3 to Columbus, LaGrange (20-8) has won six straight games, including a 2-1 win over Carrollton in the regular-season finale that wrapped up the number three seed in Region 5-AAAA.
Overall, LaGrange has won 11 of its past 12 games, so it is hot at the right time.
“We’re kind of peaking where we need to, so that’s a good thing for us,” Jones said. “We started out shaky, and even though we dropped the game to Columbus, we turned around and beat Alexander. We’re playing well right now. We’re hitting the ball well. We just have to carry it over.”
The year began with a lot of question marks for the Lady Grangers as far as who would play where in the field, and what the lineup would look like.
As the season went along, everything came together, and LaGrange now looks like a team capable of making a lot of noise at state.
“We definitely have improved since the beginning of the year,” said senior Karsin Spinks, the team’s leading hitter. “We thought it might be a rough season, but the underclassmen definitely stepped up.”
LaGrange has a team batting average of .319, and five of the every-day players have batting averages above .300.
Spinks felt the offense really started to click when freshman T’ea Winston moved into the leadoff spot and starting hitting left-handed every at-bat.
Spinks had been hitting in the leadoff spot before Winston moved into that role.
“We’ve had T’ea switch over and hit left-handed, which is key for her being leadoff,” Spinks said. “I’m not a leadoff. It’s a huge difference having me in the three hole, and Emily (Anderson) hitting two and her in the one. We’ve been able to get more runs across like that.”
Whatever spot Spinks has been in this season, she has been hammering the ball.
Spinks leads the team in batting average (.527), hits (49), RBIs (29), runs scored (42) and home runs (three).
Spinks came into the season without any career home runs, and then she hit three in her final six games.
“I’m just focusing on the line drives,” Spinks said. “Lately they’ve seemed to go over the fence, which is nice.”
Makenzie Traylor, a junior catcher, has also had a terrific season with a .338 batting average, and she has knocked in 20 runs to go along with a team-high 14 stolen bases.
Despite playing arguably the most physically-demanding position on the field, Traylor hasn’t missed a game this season.
Emily Anderson, known mostly for what she does on the pitcher’s mound, has been getting it done with the bat as well.
Anderson is hitting .317 with 24 RBIs, and she has a home run.
A pair of freshmen who have made huge impacts this season are Winston and Lauren Kuerzi.
Kuerzi is second on the team with a .358 batting average, and she has driven in 15 runs.
Kuerzi is one of just four players on the team who has played in every game this season.
Winston, meanwhile, is hitting .324, and she is second to Spinks with 25 runs scored.
Taylor Livingston, one of three seniors along with Spinks and Anderson, is hitting .280, and she has 23 RBIs, and nine of her 23 hits are of the extra-base variety.
Sophomore Destiny Gay is among the team leaders with 18 RBIs, and sophomore Leighton Parker has driven in 11 runs.
The pieces are in place, now it’s just a matter of going out and making it happen.
“We definitely have the talent on the field,” Spinks said. “We just can’t let the nerves get the best of us.”
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