Special night for Troup baseball team
By Kevin Eckleberry
LAGRANGE – They’re the first-place Troup Tigers.
With Tuesday’s dramatic, 3-2 victory over the LaGrange Grangers in nine innings, the Tigers have ascended to the top spot in the Region 5-AAAA standings with a 7-2 record.
The score was deadlocked at 2-2 when Troup came to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Ken Truitt reached on a one-out single, and he later scored on a wild pitch, and he was mobbed by his teammates as the Tigers celebrated their second win of the season over their cross-town rivals.
Adding to the joy of the occasion, Tuesday also marked Craig Garner’s 300th win as Troup’s head coach.
Garner took over as Troup’s head coach in 2002, and he has enjoyed tremendous success in his 16 seasons at the helm.
“I’ve been so focused on the region play, and every game, so while I knew it was coming up, I hadn’t given it two thoughts,” Garner said. “Now that it’s here, it’s great, and I appreciate it, but I haven’t thrown the first pitch, I haven’t hit the first ball, I haven’t run the first base.”
A year ago, Garner led the Tigers to their first region championship in 20 years, and they’ve put themselves in position to possible make it back-to-back titles, although there’s plenty of work left to do.
Troup has region games remaining with Central-Carroll, Cartersville and Sandy Creek, and it may need to win all three games to secure the title.
LaGrange and Cartersville are a half-game behind Troup at 6-2 in the region.
That Troup would be in this situation was far from a sure thing when the season began.
The 2016 team was a senior-dominated one, so Garner was tasked with replacing most of the starters heading into this season.
The Tigers have found ways to win, though, and it’s a group that Garner is extremely fond of.
“It makes it even more special to (reach 300 wins) with this team,” Garner said. “I’ve been telling them all year how bad they were, and how we would be lucky to make it out of region, and we’d be lucky to go .500. For them to constantly step up, this is turning into a very special group.”
LaGrange, which had won six consecutive region games to move into first place, has four region games left, including Thursday’s home game against Central-Carroll.
LaGrange can still win the region title if it wins out, and Troup loses one of its final three region games.
“We’ll just try to regroup, and come back and play again,” LaGrange head coach David Smart said. “That’s the great thing about baseball. You usually get a chance to rebound quick. So we’ll find out what we’re made of.”
The Grangers showed plenty of resiliency in Tuesday’s game.
LaGrange was down by a run with no one on and two outs in the top of the seventh inning when it rallied to tie it.
David Sweat, who had a four-hit game, and Champ Willis had back-to-back singles to put men on first and third for Willis Kemp.
Kemp, LaGrange’s senior shortstop, came through with the RBI single to bring in Sweat with the tying run.
Troup’s Colby Williams, who started and pitched seven innings, walked Hunter Plant before getting a flyout to end the threat.
“It was tough on Colby do be so close to finishing things off, and then all the sudden bam, bam, bam, three straight hits,” Garner said. “But he continued to battle.”
The Tigers had a chance to win it with a run in the bottom of the seventh, but they were set down in order by Jacob Vinson, who entered the game in the fifth inning in relief of starter Ben Anderson.
In the top of the eighth, it was Troup senior Jarred Helton who was called upon to take the mound, and he embraced the moment.
“I really wanted to get in there,” Helton said. “When they said it, I was just ready.”
LaGrange got a leadoff single from Cole Freeman in the top of the eighth, but Helton got the next three outs.
The Tigers got a one-out single from Ryan Bliss in the bottom of the eighth, but Vinson set down the next two batters, and it was on to the ninth inning.
Helton had a perfect top of the ninth, and Troup came to bat in the bottom of the inning, once again with a chance to win it.
With one out, Truitt ripped the ball deep to left field, and it looked like it might have a chance to leave the yard, but it landed fall just short of the fence.
Truitt had to regroup and step back into the batter’s box, and he reached on a base hit, and the Tigers had the winning run on base.
Truitt wasn’t planning on staying on first for long.
“I knew I was going to steal second,” Truitt said.
Truitt did indeed get the steal, and he moved to third on a groundout by Camren Russell.
After a walk to Brantly Robinson, Smart made the call to the bullpen, with Matthew Anderson taking over on the mound from Vinson, who was terrific during his 4 2/3 innings.
After a walk to Kenly Bridwell, Troup had the bases loaded and two outs, and it was Helton at the plate.
The second pitch to Helton bounced and rolled back to the fence behind home plate, and Truitt raced home with the winning run.
“I can’t really describe it,” Helton said. “It was exciting, and it happened so fast.”
Troup scored the game’s first run in the bottom of the first inning without getting a hit.
Bridwell led off with a walk, Bliss reached on an error with one out, and both men moved up a base on a wild pitch.
Cooper Doughman then popped the ball up to the right side of the infield, and it was caught by first baseman Hunter Plant.
An alert Bridwell, realizing no one was covering the plate, raced home with the game’s first run.
Troup went up 2-0 with a run in the bottom of the third.
Bridwell singled, and after Helton reached on a fielder’s choice, Bliss beat out an infield single to put men on first and second.
Next up was Doughman, and when his groundball was misplayed, pinch-runner Luke Swanson came home with the second run.
LaGrange got one of those runs back in the sixth inning.
Sweat and Willis got things started with back-to-back hits, and a run scored when Kemp reached on an error.
The Grangers went on to load the bases, but Williams got an inning-ending strikeout, and the Tigers still had a one-run lead.
The top of the seventh inning began with Williams striking out the first two batters he faced, but Sweat kept hope alive with a two-out single, and the Grangers went on to tie it at 2-2, and that’s the way it remained until the Tigers won it two innings later.
TROUP: Colby Williams was the starting pitcher, and he went seven innings and gave up 10 hits and two runs, and he had seven strikeouts. Williams has not given up more than two runs in a game this season…Jarred Helton pitched the final two innings, and he didn’t allow a run and gave up just one hit…Ryan Bliss had two hits for Troup, and Kenly Bridwell, Ken Truitt, Camren Russell and Brantly Robinson each had one hit.
LAGRANGE: Ben Anderson started for LaGrange, and he pitched four innings and gave up four hits and two unearned runs with two strikeouts…Jacob Vinson, the side-arming right-hander, threw 4 2/3 innings and allowed one run on two hits, and Matthew Anderson faced two batters and didn’t record an out…David Sweat had a huge day at the plate with four hits and two runs scored, and Cole Freeman had three hits. Champ Willis had two hits, and Willis Kemp had one hit and two RBIs. Charles Crawford also had a hit.