Catcher a key player for Grangers

Published 4:02 pm Wednesday, May 17, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

LAGRANGE – Sitting wasn’t a consideration.

For nearly every inning of every meaningful game this season, Champ Willis has been in his familiar spot behind home plate.

During the playoffs, teams play doubleheaders, so it’s not uncommon for a catcher to play in one game, and get a break in the other.

Last week, LaGrange played Stephens County in the quarterfinals, and even though it was a warm day, Willis caught all 14 innings of the doubleheader.

Willis said the discussion of whether he’d sit out the second game didn’t even come up.

“That wasn’t an option,” Willis said.

Willis is one of the most valuable players on the team, not just for what he does defensively from the catcher position, but at the plate as well.

In the playoffs, Willis is tied for the team lead with eight hits, and he had four of those hits in one game.

In a 5-2 victory over Northside, Willis had four hits and two RBIs, and he had three RBIs in a 10-0 victory over Chestatee.

Willis also had two hits in a 5-0 win over Stephens County, he had a hit and an RBI in a 6-2 win over Stephens County, and he had a hit in a 5-3 victory over Northside.

At catcher, Willis has been behind the plate for some outstanding pitching performances.

The Grangers have only allowed seven runs in six playoff games, and they have three shutouts.

While Willis doesn’t call the pitches, his presence is an important one.

Willis said his role with the pitchers is to “just try to be whatever they want me to be. I do whatever they need.”

Willis has also been effective at throwing out potential base stealers, plays that have snuffed out potential rallies.

Willis has been the Grangers’ starting catcher the past two seasons.

A year ago, he was a part of a team that reached the second round of the state playoffs before falling to Gainesville.

Now, Willis and his teammates are four victories away from a state championship.

“It’s just awesome,” Willis said. “I just can’t describe it right now. You hear stories about teams going to the final four. I’m just glad to be a part of this team.”