Pitching-rich Tigers host playoff series
By Kevin Eckleberry
LAGRANGE – The Troup Tigers have a pair of aces, and that’s a great thing if you’re playing poker, or baseball.
As the Tigers prepare for what they hope will be an extended playoff run, they’re buoyed by the fact that they have a one-two punch at pitcher that could be as potent as any team in the state.
Sophomore Colby Williams has been untouchable all season, and he hasn’t given up more than two runs in a game this season.
Jarred Helton hasn’t been too shabby, either.
The senior right-hander has been steady all season, and he was on the mound for Troup’s region championship-clinching 2-1 win over Cartersville on April 18.
Helton and Williams will likely be on the mound today as Troup hosts West Hall in the opening round of the Class AAAA state tournament.
While Troup (20-10) won the Region 5-AAAA championship, West Hall (11-14) finished fourth in Region 7-AAAA.
Troup is in this position due in large part to the performance of Williams and Helton.
One or the other was on the mound for nearly every key game this season, and they produced big-time results.
In the Cartersville game, Williams was rested and ready to go, but head coach Craig Garner went with Helton.
That proved to be a wise decision, with Helton throwing six innings before Williams pitched the seventh inning for the save.
Helton wanted to be the man on the mound with the title on the line.
“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.”
Earlier in the region schedule, Helton threw a complete game in a 1-0 loss to Cedartown.
“He’s just keeping hitters off-balance,” Garner said. “He’s throwing great pitches, working both sides of the ball, in and out, up and down, he’s changing speeds. You can win a lot of high-school ballgames doing that.”
Garner was counting on Williams to be the staff ace, and he has been that and more.
In his four region starts, Williams was 3-0, and Troup won all four of those games.
In his most recent game, Williams threw a four-hit shutout in a 4-0 win over East Coweta in last week’s regular-season finale.
“He competes,” Garner said of Williams. “He’s a bulldog out there. He doesn’t want you to take the ball out of his hands.”
If Troup gets to a Game 3 in a playoff series, Ryan Bliss could be on the mound.
Bliss, a junior, is one of the state’s elite shortstops and he has verbally committed to Auburn, and he has also been an effective pitcher this season.
In a 7-1 region win over Chapel Hill, Bliss threw four innings of one-hit, shutout baseball.
Bliss had never pitched before this season, but he was willing to do whatever helped the team.
“I was a little iffy,” Bliss said. “I have a long season with summer ball. But whatever helps the team, I was down for it.”
While pitching is a strength for the Tigers, they’ve found ways to score runs as well.
The Tigers scored 151 runs in the regular season, which was the most among the region teams.
A year ago, Troup was in this same position after winning a region championship, and it lost to Madison County in the first round of the state playoffs.
“Hopefully this team will make a run, and we won’t slip up like we did last year,” Bliss said.
That the Tigers would be here was hardly a sure thing after they lost so many seniors from the 2016 team.
Yet here they are, at home and ready to begin what could be a lengthy playoff stay.
“Losing 12 seniors, people thought we wouldn’t do it again,” Helton said. “But we did it.”
WHAT: First round of Class AAAA state tournament
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Troup won Region 5-AAAA championship; West Hall finished fourth in Region 7-AAAA
SCHEDULE: Troup will host a doubleheader today at 5 p.m., with the if-game scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m.