Special season ends for Tigers
By Kevin Eckleberry
LAGRANGE – It wasn’t their day.
For the second straight Saturday, the Troup Tigers were on their home field for a winner-take-all game in the state playoffs.
The previous week, Troup dispatched West Hall 6-1 to reach the second round where Hardaway awaited.
On Friday, Troup and Hardaway split a doubleheader, setting up Saturday’s do-or-die game.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, they were unable to avoid elimination the second time around.
Hardaway built a 6-0 lead through four innings, and it went on to claim a 6-2 victory to advance to the elite eight of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
For Troup, it was the final game in what was a phenomenal season.
The Tigers (23-13) won the Region 5-AAAA championship, they went unbeaten against county rivals LaGrange and Callaway, and they reached the second round of the state playoffs.
Making those accomplishments even more impressive, the Tigers came into the season with a lot of question marks after the departure of so many seniors from last year’s team.
“We’ve come a long way this year, and did a lot of things that honestly we probably shouldn’t have done,” Troup head coach Craig Garner said. “I know it’s tough to think that now, because we’re sitting here with the lingering thoughts of, if we’d played a little better, we’re advancing into the elite eight.”
Still, Garner’s hope is that the players will have nothing but positive feelings about what they accomplished this season.
“We’ve come a long way, and we’ve done a lot of good things,” Garner said. “I’m proud of them, and I love them.”
In Saturday’s game, the Tigers were unable to get much going at the plate.
The Tigers were limited to three hits against two Hawks’ pitchers, and they were all singles.
Two of those hits came in the fifth inning when the Tigers scored both of their runs.
The Hawks, meanwhile, took advantage of some defensive miscues by the Tigers.
While Hardaway had eight hits, all six of its runs in the game were unearned.
“You tip your cap to them,” Garner said. “They played hard. They did what they needed to do. We gave them six unearned runs. And that’s the thing. We’re the type of team where you can’t do that. We simply don’t hit well enough to overcome those kind of mistakes.”
After scoring a single run in the second inning, the Hawks pushed three more runs across in the top of the third to go up 4-0.
Hunter Duke had the big blow in the third, a two-run home run that hit the scoreboard beyond the left-field fence.
Hardaway added two more runs in the fourth inning to build a 6-0 lead.
The Tigers tried to rally in the fifth inning.
With one out, Kenly Bridwell was hit by a pitch, and Caleb McCurry singled to put men on first and second.
After a Brantly Robinson bunt moved the runners up a base, Ken Truitt reached on an infield single to give the Tigers their first run.
Truitt took off on a stolen-base attempt, and when the throw to second got away, McCurry came home with the Tigers’ second run.
Chandler Griggs got a groundout to end the inning, and Hardaway still led by four.
The Tigers got the leadoff man on in the sixth when Ryan Bliss reached on an error, but Griggs retired the next three batters and no runs scored.
In the seventh, Duke went to the mound for the Hawks, and he walked Bridwell and hit McCurry to begin the inning before setting down the three batters to end it.
Bliss, who was the winning pitcher in the second game on Friday after pitching two innings, got the start on Saturday, and he worked the first three innings.
Helton, who was the starting pitcher in Game 2 on Friday and pitched five innings, threw three innings on Saturday.
The Hawks scored two runs in the fourth inning, but Helton was perfect in the fifth and sixth innings.
Colby Williams, who threw a complete game in Friday’s series opener, pitched the seventh inning on Saturday, and he got out of a bases-loaded jam with a strikeout to keep it a four-run game.
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