Big bounce-back win for Grangers

Published 9:40 pm Sunday, March 19, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

LAGRANGE – They needed that one.

The LaGrange Grangers began their region schedule with a loss to the rival Troup Tigers on Friday night, and they were back on their home field a day later against Cedartown.

While a loss would hardly have been catastrophic to the Grangers’ playoff chances, they did not want to begin their Region 5-AAAA schedule with two straight losses.

Saturday’s game was scoreless until the bottom of the fifth inning when Willis Kemp came through with an RBI double, and LaGrange went on to claim a 4-0 victory to even its region record.

“The great thing about baseball is you usually get a chance to come back pretty quick (after a loss),” LaGrange head coach David Smart said. “They were ready to get back out there and get after it, and get back and even up the region record.”

Senior catcher Champ Willis said “it’s always nice to get that bad taste out of your mouth, especially losing to Troup, your rival. And it was also a region game.”

The Grangers had struggled a bit at the plate in their previous few games, and they’d left a bunch of base runners on in the first four innings against Cedartown.

LaGrange finally broke through in the fifth inning ,with Kemp’s double and Jacob Vinson’s sacrifice fly giving the home team a 2-0 lead.

Senior catcher Champ Willis added an RBI double in the seventh inning for an insurance run.

“We haven’t been playing to our full potential,” said Kemp, who made some terrific plays from his shortstop position. “This definitely gives us a boost and a lot of confidence going into next week with Cartersville and Chapel Hill.”

Senior Matthew Anderson, who pitched five shutout innings on Saturday, said everyone was glad to be able to return to the field quickly after Friday’s loss to Troup.

“Especially when you lose to Troup, it’s never easy to get over,” Anderson said. “So coming out here and beating a really good team definitely makes us feel good, and we’re ready to move on. Hopefully we can carry this over to the next game.”

While the offense has been hot and cold this season, the pitching has been there since Day 1, and that was the case again on Saturday.

Anderson worked around four hits to pitch five scoreless innings, and Vinson tossed two scoreless innings to get the save.

Both pitchers were the beneficiaries of some outstanding defense.

Among some of the defensive highlights was a nice running catch by left filelder Ben Farrar to end the top of the first inning, and Kemp, third baseman Charles Crawford and second baseman Trevor John Norris all did some terrific work on the infield.

Kemp said having pitchers who consistently throw strikes makes things easier on the defensive players.

“Those guys bring it every time they pitch,” Kemp said. “They hardly ever have a bad outing. It’s awesome having them throw strikes and it makes it a lot of fun because you’re sitting back there getting action.”

At the plate, Anderson, Kemp, David Sweat and Hunter Plant each had two hits.

The Grangers had been limited to a total of three runs in their previous three games, so they were glad to enjoy some success at the plate.

“It’s a big relief,” Anderson said. “We’ve got some guys that have been struggling a little bit, and for them to get some hits and for us to win, that’s got to boost everybody’s confidence.”

Through the first four innings of Saturday’s game, the Grangers continued to struggle to put a number in the run column.

The Grangers had men on in each of the first four innings, including the bottom of the first when they loaded the bases, but they couldn’t bring a run home.

That changed in the breakthrough fifth inning.

With one out, Sweat and Anderson reached on back-to-back singles, and Kemp then hammered the ball to the outfield fence for an RBI double, and LaGrange had the lead.

After a pitching change, Vinson’s sacrifice fly scored another run, and LaGrange led 2-0.

“Matthew was pitching a great game, and we were having a hard time scoring runs for him,” Kemp said. “We kept leaving them on base. Finally I came up with a hit and we scored a run, and it takes a lot of pressure of you, especially on defense because you’re not sitting 0-0. You’ve got a lead.”

LaGrange added two key insurance runs in the sixth inning.

Plant led off the inning with his second hit, and with two outs, Willis came through with an RBI double, and he later scored on an error to cap the scoring.

Cedartown had its chances to break through.

The Bulldogs’ best scoring opportunity came in the fourth inning.

Cedartown had the bases loaded and no outs when Norris caught a line drive at second base, and he threw to first for the double play.

With men still on second and third, Anderson got a strikeout to end the inning, keeping it a scoreless game.

“I just wanted to compete,” Anderson said. “I know we have a great defense that can make plays.”

In the top of the fifth in what was still a scoreless game, Cedartown had two base runners on when Crawford, a freshman, showed the poise of a veteran to get the third out.

The ball hit Crawford’s glove and rolled out, but he quickly picked it up and made the throw to first to end the inning.

In the sixth inning, with Vinson on the mound, the Bulldogs got a lead-off infield single, but Crawford and Kemp gobbled up ground balls on the left side of the infield to end the inning.

“I know when I get a ground ball that my boys behind me are going to make plays,” Vinson said. “That was a really hard play that Charles made, and Willis made a couple of them.”

After the Grangers put two more runs on the board in the bottom of the sixth, Vinson finished things off in the top of the seventh.

“You don’t want to say it was a must-win, but it kind of gets us back on track as far as the number of wins you want to try and get to where you want to be,” Smart said. “It’s good to get a really good win against a quality club. That was really big for us.”

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