LaGrange tops Northside, advances to elite eight
By Kevin Eckleberry
LAGRANGE – They’re in elite company.
The LaGrange Grangers took care of visiting Northside in two games on Wednesday to advance to the elite eight of the Class AAAA state baseball playoffs.
After dispatching Northside 5-3 in Game 1, LaGrange finished the sweep with a 5-2 victory.
LaGrange’s quarterfinal opponent will be either Luella or Stephens County, and those two teams split a double-header on Wednesday to force a Game 3.
David Smart, LaGrange’s second-year head coach, is thrilled to see this group of players enjoying this level of success.
“I can’t say enough about them,” Smart said. “I’m so happy for them, so proud for them. They’ve worked so hard. Even from the time I got here last year in the offseason. All those 6 a.m. workouts. For them to see the reward for that, it makes me even happier.”
Smart said it helps that the players have unwavering support for one another.
“They know what their first job is, and that’s to love one another,” Smart said. “They understand that. That’s one of the things we preach since we got here. They’ve embraced it. It’s been a real pleasure.”
The Grangers (23-11) are 4-0 in the playoffs, and they’re getting it done in every facet of the game. The pitching has been outstanding, the defense has been flawless, and the Grangers are getting contributions from players throughout the lineup.
“I knew our pitchers would be good today, and they were,” said LaGrange’s senior shortstop, Willis Kemp. “Our defense is hot right now, and our bats are coming along. We’re pretty excited to keep playing ball.”
In Game 1, Ben Anderson got the complete-game victory for the Grangers, and Matthew Anderson and Jacob Vinson combined to get it done in Game 2.
Matthew Anderson pitched the first four innings and was the winning pitcher, and Jacob Vinson threw three scoreless innings to get the save.
In both games, the defense supported the pitchers with a stellar performance.
“The defense has been amazing,” LaGrange outfielder Cole Freeman said. “That’s the biggest factor I think. We haven’t had errors. To be a pitcher, that makes it so much easier.”
Here’s a recap of each game:
Ben Anderson went the full seven innings for the Grangers, and he got the job done.
Anderson, who also got the win in Game 1 of last week’s series against Chestatee, gave up six hits and three runs, although only one of those runs was earned.
Anderson had four strikeouts, and he only issued one walk.
The Patriots struck first for two runs in the top of the first inning, but the Grangers answered with a run in the bottom of the second and two more in the third to take the lead.
“They jumped on us 2-0 in the first game, but we came back there with a run, just chipping away at it,” Freeman said.
The Grangers scored another run in the fourth inning to go up 4-2, and the Patriots scored a single run in the top of the sixth to get within a run.
LaGrange got a key insurance run in the bottom of the sixth on a Vinson base hit, and Anderson set Northside down in the seventh inning to end it.
Vinson led the offensive attack with three hits and an RBI, and Freeman had two hits and two runs scored.
Charles Crawford, a freshman third baseman, had a hit and an RBI, David Sweat, Champ Willis and Matt Anderson each had hits, and Ben Anderson drove in a run.
The Patriots scored two runs in the bottom of the second inning to pull even after the Grangers had scored twice in the first inning, but the Grangers answered with a run in the top of the third to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Matt Anderson started for LaGrange, and he worked the first four innings and was the winning pitcher.
Vinson, who has been lights out in relief this season, worked the final three innings to collect the save.
“I was juiced up and overthrowing the first couple of pitches,” Vinson said. “But I brought it back in. It was really exciting, really fun.”
Catcher Champ Willis helped lead the offensive effort with three hits and an RBI, and he threw a base runner out to help thwart a potential Northside rally in the fifth inning.
Vinson had a double, Sweat had a hit and an RBI, Matt Anderson drove in two runs, Kemp and Crawford both had hits, and Freeman walked and was hit by a pitch.
Ben Farrar entered the game as a pinch-runner in the fifth inning, and scored a run.
OF NOTE: For more on Wednesday’s games, check out Friday’s sports section.