Troup wins region championship
By Kevin Eckleberry
LAGRANGE – They’re the champions.
The Troup Tigers, after winning the program’s first region championship in two decades a year ago, made it back-to-back titles with Tuesday’s 2-1 victory over the visiting Cartersville Purple Hurricanes.
Troup (18-10 overall) improved to 8-3 in Region 5-AAAA, and it will finish in first place no matter what happens in Thursday’s region finale against Sandy Creek.
For Tuesday’s championship showdown, Troup head coach Craig Garner handed the ball to Jarred Helton, and the senior responded in brilliant fashion.
Helton pitched six innings, and the only run he allowed came on a solo home run in the top of the sixth inning.
Colby Williams, with the help of a remarkable throw by center fielder Ken Truitt to nail a player at home for the second out, threw a scoreless seventh inning to get the save.
Ryan Bliss drove in both of the runs for Troup with sacrifice fly balls, and Kenly Bridwell and Helton both scored after reaching on hits.
The Tigers didn’t do much offensively, but they didn’t need to thanks to the effort of Helton, who embraced the chance to be on the mound for a potential region-clinching game.
“It’s my senior year, and I wanted to win region,” Helton said. “We had a chance to clinch it, and I wanted the ball. I was ready for it.”
Williams was Troup’s starting pitcher during an earlier 1-0 win over Cartersville, but Garner decided to go with Helton for the rematch.
“Number one, I really don’t like throwing the same kid twice,” Garner said. “Number two is, (LaGrange) just threw Matt Anderson against them on Friday, and Matt Anderson is a very similar pitcher to Colby. That’s the last thing they’d seen. And I knew earlier in the season they’d had a little trouble against somebody who throws a little slower, and mixes up his pitches, and changes speeds. It was a great time to bring him in.”
Helton said the game plan was to “just mix speeds, keep it down, keep them off-balance, keep my pitch count low.”
Bliss, Troup’s outstanding shortstop, said “I had nothing but confidence in Jarred.”
“I’ve played with him for three, four years,” Bliss added. “He’s a magician up there. I had total confidence in him.”
Helton also provided one of the key hits in the game.
After Cartersville tied it in the top of the sixth on an Anthony Seigler home run that just cleared the center-field fence, Troup answered with the go-ahead run in the bottom of the inning.
Helton was the lead-off hitter, and he stepped to the plate ready to swing against Seigler, who threw an outstanding game of his own.
“He’s been throwing first-pitch fastballs a lot, so I was just ready to hit,” Helton said.
Helton swung at the first pitch, and he lined it over the third baseman’s head for a double, and Troup had the go-ahead run on base.
A wild pitch allowed courtesy runner Luke Swanson to make it to third with no outs, and Bliss was at the plate with an opportunity to put his team back on top.
Bliss lifted the ball to left field for the flyout, and Swanson came home with the go-ahead run.
Williams moved from third base to the pitcher’s mound for the seventh inning as he looked to preserve the lead.
Williams got the job done, although it wasn’t easy.
An error and a single gave the Purple Hurricanes runners on first and second with no outs.
Jacob Fowler was brought in as a pinch-hitter to get a bunt down, and he did, but Williams was quick off the mound, and he rifled a throw to Bliss at third for the first out.
Next up was Preston Welchel, and he drove the ball into center field for a base hit, and Truitt fielded it and came up throwing.
Truitt threw a strike to catcher Cooper Doughman, who got the tag down for the out, and Troup still had the lead.
“I put my all into the throw,” Truitt said. “I put everything I had into that ball.”
Truitt, a senior, said “I’ll remember that for the rest of my life. That didn’t win the game, but it shifted the momentum in our favor.”
Garner said it’s a play the Tigers have worked on frequently in practice.
“Ken Truitt came through and made a good throw, and Cooper stayed on the plate,” Garner said. “That was critical. Several times earlier this year we’ve had plays at the plate, and we’ve leaked out. We’ve discussed it, and we’ve talked about it, and we’ve worked on it. We executed it perfectly.”
Cartersville still had runners on second and third, so Williams had some more work to do.
Williams got a strikeout to end it, and the celebration was on.
“As a team, we knew he could do it,” Truitt said.
Troup went up 1-0 with a run in the bottom of the first inning.
Bridwell led off with a double, and Helton moved him to third with a sacrifice bunt before Bliss’ first sacrifice fly.
It remained a 1-0 game until the top of the sixth when Seigler drove the ball over the center-field fence for the solo shot.
On the next play, Noah Daniel hit the ball sharply on the ground, and Bliss charged to his left and scooped the ball up and just got the runner at first.
“That picked me up,” Helton said. “That really helped me.”
Helton quickly retired the next two batters to set the Hurricanes down, and the Tigers won it in the bottom of the inning.
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