Senior helps lead way for Grangers
By Kevin Eckleberry
LAGRANGE – He ripped the ball to right field for what appeared to be a sure double, but LaGrange’s Ben Anderson wasn’t going to be satisfied with that.
Anderson, LaGrange’s leadoff hitter, began sprinting as soon as he made contact, and as he approached second base, he got the signal from coach David Smart at third base to keep going.
Anderson slid into third with a triple, and that jump-started a three-run rally in the seventh inning of last week’s second and deciding game against Stephens County in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.
LaGrange won the second game 5-0 after winning 6-2 earlier in the day.
For Anderson, the thought of jogging into second base with a double never entered the equation.
That’s not the kind of player he is, and it’s not the sort of team the Grangers are.
“I was going to do my best to get to third,” Anderson said. “When I got to second, he was just picking it up, so I thought I had it.”
For Anderson, who has signed a baseball scholarship with Furman, it was the culmination of an exceptional series.
In the first game, Anderson pitched 6 2/3 innings, and he held Stephens County scoreless before running into trouble in the seventh inning.
Anderson threw 112 pitches and allowed seven hits and walked two, but he did an outstanding job of pitching out of trouble.
After Stephens County scored two runs in the top of the seventh, Jacob Vinson came in and got the final out.
Anderson also contributed offensively in Game 1 with a hit, a walk, and a run scored.
In the second game, Anderson had a double and a triple with a run scored.
After Anderson tripled in the seventh inning, David Sweat and Champ Willis each had RBI hits.
“Ben, the first game, he pitches a gem of a game, and then he leads off the top of the seventh with a triple,” LaGrange’s Hunter Plant said. “That was huge.”
BOUNCING BACK: The Grangers have been terrific defensively in the playoffs, but they had some miscues in the field in Game 2 of the Stephens County series.
The Grangers did a fine job of shaking off those defensive mistakes, though.
A great example of that came in the bottom of the sixth inning when the game was still very much in doubt with the Grangers clinging to a 2-0 lead.
With runners on first and second and one out, it looked like the Grangers were going to get out of the inning with a double play.
Third baseman Charles Crawford fielded a sharply-hit grounder, and he stepped on third for an out, and a clean throw to first would have completed the double play.
The throw bounced, though, and the Indians had the tying runners on base after avoiding the double play.
The next batter, Dylan Huff, ripped the ball toward third base, and Crawford made a sensational leaping catch.
Had the ball got past the infield, two runs likely would have scored and the game would have been tied.
The Grangers had three errors in the game, but none of them led to runs for the Indians.
BALANCE: A key to the Grangers’ success in the playoffs has been their balance throughout the lineup.
The men at the top of the lineup have been producing, and so have the players at the bottom of the order.
Two Grangers, David Sweat and Champ Willis, have eight hits apiece in the playoffs, and Cole Freeman and Willis Kemp each has seven hits.
Brothers Matthew Anderson and Ben Anderson have six hits apiece, Jacob Vinson and Hunter Plant each has four hits, and Charles Crawford has three hits.
RED-HOT TEAMS: Here’s to getting hot at the right time.
The LaGrange (24-12) and Marist (21-16) baseball teams both had their ups and downs during the regular season, yet they’re two of the last four teams still standing in the Class AAAA playoffs because they’re playing their best baseball of the season when the games mean the most.
Marist finished the regular season with a 15-15 record, and it placed second in Region 7-AAAA behind Blessed Trinity.
In the playoffs, Marist is 6-1, and it has won two consecutive playoff series on the road to reach the semifinals.
LaGrange lost two of three games late in the regular season and was in danger of dropping all the way to fourth in Region 5-AAAA, but it secured close wins over Sandy Creek and Chapel Hill to finish second.
After closing the regular season with two wins in three games, LaGrange has won six in a row in the playoffs.
BACK IN THE SEMIS: For the first time since 2006, LaGrange is in the final four.
In 2006, LaGrange’s opponent in the final four was Blessed Trinity, and it was swept in two games.
Blessed Trinity won the first game 4-3 before finishing the sweep with an 11-6 win.
The Grangers, the second-place team from Region 2-AAA in 2006, finished with a 22-12 record, and they made it to the final four for the third time in four years.
In 2004, LaGrange made it to the state-championship series where it beat Cartersville for the school’s lone state title in baseball.
PITCHING PROWESS: LaGrange and Marist are in the final four based largely on their ability to shut down opposing offenses.
In its six playoff games, LaGrange hasn’t allowed more than three runs, and it has three shutouts.
In the six games combined, the Grangers have given up just seven runs.
Ben Anderson (3-0), John Morgan (2-0) and Matthew Anderson (1-0) have been the winning pitchers, and Jacob Vinson has closed out three of the games.
In its seven playoff games, Marist has given up two or fewer runs six times, and it has three shutouts.
After losing the opening game of the quarterfinal series against Madison County 6-5, Marist bounced back to win the next two games 5-0 and 19-2.
In the series finale, Connor Stevens pitched well and didn’t walk anybody, and Seb Thomas pitched the shutout in Game 2, allowing three hits while striking out nine.