Troup coach goes for milestone win

Published 12:27 pm Tuesday, April 11, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

LAGRANGE – Is this the day?

Since taking over as Troup High’s head baseball coach in 2002, Craig Garner has enjoyed tremendous success, and the program has thrived under his leadership.

Today, Garner has an opportunity to reach a significant milestone.

If Troup beats the rival LaGrange Grangers, it will be Garner’s 300th win as a head coach, although that’s obviously not forefront on his mind at the moment.

Troup is in the thick of the race for the top spot in Region 5-AAAA with a 6-2 record.

If the Tigers win today, they would move into first place with four region games remaining.

Regardless of the outcome, Troup still has a lot of work to do, as does LaGrange.

“There’s a lot of baseball left,” Garner said. “Both of us, we’re going to get after it, and both play as hard as we can. But

at the same time, win or lose, there’s a lot of baseball left.”

Still, there’s no denying how significant this game is.

It’s a showdown between two fierce rivals, which makes it a critical game, no matter the stakes.

Added to that, both teams are vying for a region title, and they’re both ranked among the top teams in the state.

According to the Georgia Dugout Club rankings that came out on Sunday, LaGrange is second in Class AAAA, while Troup is third.

“I think it’s pretty crazy that both LaGrange and Troup are ranked second and third in the state, and one and two in the region,” Garner said.

The Grangers have won their past six region games to move to the top of the standings, and they’re swinging the bat better than anyone in the region.

That red-hot offense will be put to the test today with Garner sending sophomore Colby Williams to the mound.

While there are no sure things in sports, Williams is pretty close to it.

He hasn’t given up more than two runs in a game this season, and he has been basically unhittable against region foes.

Williams has thrown complete games against LaGrange, Cartersville and Cedartown, and he is 3-0 in those games and has allowed two runs in 21 innings.

Williams threw a three-hit shutout, and he was also sharp in a 3-1 win over LaGrange, and a 2-1 victory over Cedartown.

All three of those games were on the road.

“One of his biggest positives is, he is a competitor,” Garner said. “He’s willing to lay it on the line, to have that chance. Win or lose, he wants it.”

Troup’s Jarred Helton has also been solid on the mound this season, and his best outing came in a 1-0 loss to Cedartown.

Ryan Bliss, best known as Troup’s outstanding shortstop who has verbally committed to Auburn, has also been an effective pitcher this season, and he threw four shutout innings in a 7-1 victory over Chapel Hill on March 30.

While the Tigers have struggled at times offensively, they’re still averaging five runs per game, and they’ve scored seven runs in two of their previous three games.

In the 7-1 win over Chapel Hill, Helton had three of Troup’s 10 hits with an RBI, Ryan Bliss had two hits, and Camren Russell had an RBI triple.

Troup scored seven runs again in a 9-7 loss to Harris County on Friday.

Trent Bailey had three hits, Ken Truitt had two hits and a pair of RBIs, and Bliss had another multi-hit game with two singles.

Troup’s most productive offensive game of the season came in a tournament in March when it had 13 hits and scored 18 runs against First Presbyterian.

Leadoff hitter Kenly Bridwell had three hits and three RBIs in that game, and Brantly Robinson and Cooper Doughman had two-hit games.

Bliss, who usually seems to be in the middle of Troup rallies, had two hits, three walks and two RBIs in that game.

Even in the games where the Tigers haven’t done much offensively, they’ve found ways to score, which is why they’re sitting where they are in the region.

As for the possible milestone for Garner, he said there have been a lot of people that have helped him get to this point.

“My perspective is, it’s for the program,” he said. “I guess (the wins) are going to fall under my name, but it’s the program.”

David Smart, LaGrange’s head coach, has immense respect for Garner, as well as this Troup team.

“He has done a tremendous job, and they’re really good,” Smart said. “You just look at their record. They’re good with whoever is on the mound.”