Season comes to close for Grangers
By Kevin Eckleberry
LAGRANGE – It wasn’t the ending they were hoping for, but it was nonetheless an outstanding and memorable season for the LaGrange Grangers.
LaGrange’s season came to a close with a doubleheader sweep at the hands of Marist on Wednesday in the semifinals of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
The Grangers finished with a 24-14 record, and they won three consecutive home playoff series before meeting their match.
In Game 1 on Wednesday, it was a 1-0 game through six innings, and Marist broke it open with four runs in the seventh inning on the way to a 5-0 victory.
In Game 2, it was all Marist, which finished the sweep with a 9-0 win.
While Marist will play Blessed Trinity for the state championship next week, LaGrange reflects on a season that was an unqualified success under second-year head coach David Smart.
“It hurts right now because you’ve got so much invested in it, but it’s going to end this way for everybody except for one team,” Smart said. “They just played better than we did today.”
It was the final game for a talented group of seniors, many of whom will be going on to play college baseball.
Hunter Plant (Truett-McConnell), Ben Anderson (Furman), Willis Kemp (North Georgia), David Sweat (Marion Military Institute), Trevor John Norris (West Georgia) and Willis Kemp (North Georgia) are all set to play college baseball.
Smart is appreciative of what those players, and all the seniors, accomplished during their time as Grangers.
“It’s been a special group,” Smart said. “They’ve left a standard. They’ve left a mark. The one thing you want to do when you’re a senior, is you want to leave things better, and they’ve definitely done that. They’ve done a tremendous job, and a tremendous amount of gratitude goes to those guys.”
Wednesday’s first game was there for the taking.
The Grangers had numerous opportunities to break through against pitcher Connor Stephens, but they were unable to make it happen.
Marist grabbed the lead when it scored a run on a wild pitch in the fifth inning, and it pushed four runs across in the top of the seventh.
Ben Anderson, who delivered a fourth consecutive stellar pitching performance in the playoffs, threw the complete game and was the tough-luck loser.
LaGrange’s best scoring chance came in the fourth inning when it loaded the bases with no outs, but Stephens was able to get out of the jam with no runs scoring.
“We hit some at-‘em balls, and we had the bases loaded with nobody out and we didn’t score, and you kind of know that’s going to come back and get you,” Smart said.
LaGrange held Marist scoreless through four innings, thanks in part to two pick-off throws by Anderson at first base.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Grangers threatened to bust it open.
Willis was hit by a pitch, Kemp singled, and Matthew Anderson reached on a bunt hit to load the bases.
Cole Freeman nearly gave the Grangers the lead when he ripped the ball toward left field, but the ball landed just in foul territory.
Had the ball landed one foot to the right, it would have been a double, and at least two runs would have scored.
Freeman then lined out, and Stephens got the next two outs to keep it a scoreless game.
In the bottom of the sixth, Willis led off with a double, but once again Stephens kept the Grangers off the scoreboard.
In the top of the seventh, Joseph Mannelly had a two-run double, and Charlie Benson drove in two more runs with a single to cap the scoring.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Grangers loaded the bases again.
Charles Crawford and Jacob Vinson walked, and after a pitching change, Sweat reached on an error, but Patrick Taylor got the final out to finish off the shutout.
After a 30-minute break, the teams returned to the field, and LaGrange got off to a rocky start, with Marist scoring three runs in the bottom of the first inning to take a 3-0 lead.
Mannelly had the big blow in the inning, a two-run single to put the Grangers in a three-run hole.
That’s the way it remained until the bottom of the third when Marist scored four more runs to go up 7-0.
The Grangers threatened in the top of the fourth when Freeman walked and Crawford singled to put men on first and third, but they couldn’t break through against Seb Thomas.
Marist scored two more runs in the fifth inning to take a 9-0 lead, and it needed one more run to end the game early because of the run rule.
LaGrange didn’t let that happen.
Senior Coy Tedescucci entered the game with men on base in the bottom of the fifth and got out of it, and he threw a scoreless sixth inning as well to make sure the game went the full seven innings.
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