Tigers going for another region title
Published 1:54 pm Thursday, February 1, 2018
By Kevin Eckleberry
They’re going for a three-peat.
Before the 2016 season, it had been more than two decades since the Troup Tigers won a region championship in baseball.
Now, the Tigers head into a new season looking to win a third consecutive region title, and they’ve got a team capable of making that happen.
While there are some key players to replace, head coach Craig Garner will lead a veteran and talented onto the field this spring.
Among the returnees is senior shortstop and pitcher Ryan Bliss, who has signed to play baseball at Auburn.
Also back is junior pitcher Colby Williams, who was nearly unhittable last season, and veteran catcher Cooper Doughman returns as well.
Seniors Kenly Bridwell and Brantly Robinson were also starters last season as position players, and Caleb McCurry, Cade Garner and Luke Purnell were all significant contributors as freshmen.
Newcomer Garrett Casey, whose family moved to Troup County from Delaware, will likely be a key member of the pitching staff.
Bliss has been starting since he was a freshman, and during his first two seasons he was strictly a shortstop, and he excelled in that role.
Last season, there was an opening on the pitching staff, and Bliss filled it admirably.
He was primarily a relief pitcher, but when needed, he stepped in and was a dominant starter.
In the decisive third game of a playoff series against West Hall, Bliss pitched seven superb innings and didn’t allow an earned run in a 6-1 victory.
“We knew going in we were going to use him (as a pitcher), and we played with the idea of him as a number three starter,” Garner said. “And then he kind of settled in as a closer-type role. We realized we’d have to save him throughout the year, and then we’d use him again as a starter late. And we’ve got him back in that same role. He’ll start, and he’ll pitch in relief. He’s ready to do whatever he needs to help us get further along.”
The unquestioned leader of the staff is Williams, who had an earned run average of less than one last season.
His only loss of the season came in a playoff loss to Hardaway, and he didn’t give up an earned run in that game.
When Williams isn’t pitching, he is an exceptional third baseman and a key member of the lineup.
Troup’s number two starter last season was Jarred Helton, and he graduated is now at LaGrange College.
Casey, a junior, could help fill the void left by Helton’s departure.
“He’s come in, and he’s fit right in,” Garner said. “He threw the first intra-squad, and it was good.”
Like all of the other local teams, Troup’s practice schedule was interrupted by the winter storm two weeks ago.
The Tigers practiced one day, and they had to take the next three days off because of the winter conditions.
Since then, the Tigers have been making up for lost time, and Garner believes the delay wasn’t too costly.
“This is my 17th year, so by now I’ve got a good gauge, a good sense of what needs to be taught, how many reps you need, how many times you need to be working on this or that,” Garner said. “I felt like were able to catch back up through several long practices. Most of our guys, especially on the varsity level, are returning starters, so they have a good idea about things. We were able to catch back up pretty quickly.”
One of the key additions to the team will be on the coaching staff.
Josh King, a former Troup standout who enjoyed a successful collegiate career at Marshall, will be an assistant coach this season.
“What I love about him is the fact that he can help in several different ways,” Garner said. “In college, he was a pitcher for three years, and then got hurt and ended up winning the starting second baseman job for his senior year. I thought that was pretty remarkable. He’s very versatile, very experienced, and young and energetic. He’s a big pick pick-up for our program.”