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Grangers return after memorable season

 

By Kevin Eckleberry

kevin.eckleberry@lagrangenews.com

It was a special season.

The LaGrange Grangers, after finishing second in Region 5-AAAA during the 2017 season, soared all the way to the semifinals of the state playoffs before falling to a talented Marist team that win on to capture the championship.

“It was probably one of the most fulfilling seasons as a coach I’ve ever had,” said David Smart, who took over as LaGrange’s coach before the 2016 season. “To be honest, my first two years here have been like that. It’s been very rewarding.”

It was a senior-dominated team composed of players who grew up playing the game together, many of whom are now on college rosters.

“It was an outstanding group, not just as players, but they really cared about each other,” Smart said. “It was a lot of fun.”

The 2017 season has been relegated to the history books, though, so it’s time to look forward.

It’ll be an inexperienced LaGrange team that takes the field on Feb. 15 against Newnan, although there are a handful of players who were a part of last year’s semifinal team.

It will undoubtedly be a drastically different team than the one went 26-13 a year ago and had one of the best postseason runs in the history of the program.

So far, Smart likes what he sees through the first two weeks of preseason practice.

“Every year, every team takes on a different personality,” Smart said. “This one, their personality is starting to evolve and come out. It’s kind of neat to see that. I’ve been really proud of them, and really impressed with them. As proud as they were of last year, they’re kind of saying it’s our turn now. It’s a different year. That shows a lot of maturity on their part.”

Among LaGrange’s returning players is sophomore Charles Crawford, who excelled as the starting third baseman last season.

Cole Freeman was a standout outfielder for the Grangers, and he was also an effective pitcher when called upon.

Seth Prather and Ben Farrar also saw regular playing time last season, and LaGrange should greatly benefit from the presence of Trent Bailey, who has transferred from Troup.

Bailey was one of the top hitters for a Troup team that won a second consecutive region championship.

On the mound, John Morgan is LaGrange’s top returning pitcher.

On a veteran staff, Morgan was called upon to pitch some of the biggest games of the season.

Morgan, in fact, was the winning pitcher in a pair of series-clinching victories against Chestatee and Stephens County.

In those postseason starts combined, Morgan pitched 10 2/3 innings and didn’t allow a run.

Freeman, Crawford and Ben Stogner also got some time on the mound last season and did well.

“We’ve have some guys that’ll have a chance to get some innings for us,” Smart said. “We’re not going to over-power anybody.

“If we can find about six guys that we can trust that can go out there and throw the ball across the plate, and control the running game and field their position, you’ll take your chances.”

As always, LaGrange will play a challenging early-season schedule before the start of region play on March 13.

“Our schedule is very unforgiving,” Smart said. “Our whole idea behind that is, when we get into region play, we want to make sure that anybody we see going forward, we’ve already seen somebody as good or better. We want to be well-prepared for that. Our record may not be all that impressive, but we should be really prepared.”

LaGrange hosts Shaw on Friday in a preseason game before opening for real the following week.