Special season for Tigers
Published 1:46 pm Tuesday, May 8, 2018
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The Troup Tigers had no illusions about the difficulty of the task they were facing.
After dispatching Ridgeland with ease in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs, Troup’s reward was a showdown with a team that, at least according to one national poll, was the best in the country.
Blessed Trinity, a private school in Roswell, is a baseball machine.
Of late it seems as though Blessed Trinity is either winning state championships, or competing for one.
Blessed Trinity won state titles in 2014 and 2015, and it finished second the past two years.
This year’s team, which includes Tom Glavine’s son Peyton who is part of a lock-down pitching staff, is absolutely loaded, thus the number-one national ranking according to USA Today.
Despite that, Troup made the trip to Roswell on Thursday afternoon expecting to do more than just show up and be the latest victim of the Blessed Trinity powerhouse.
“We’ll just go in and have fun,” Troup senior shortstop Ryan Bliss said before the series began. “We’re the underdogs. We don’t have anything to lose. We’ll just go out there and have fun, and try to beat them.”
Bliss and the Tigers gave it a shot.
Troup had the lead in both ends of the doubleheader, but it was Blessed Trinity rallying for the sweep.
After falling behind 2-0 in the first game, Blessed Trinity rallied for the 3-2 win.
Troup jumped on top in the second game as well, taking a 4-0 lead in the third inning, but once again it was Blessed Trinity fighting from behind to take the 6-4 win.
The nation’s top-ranked team had to work for it, but in the
end it was Blessed Trinity advancing to the quarterfinals to face another one of the state’s elite programs in Columbus.
Troup took no solace in coming close against a team of Blessed Trinity’s caliber.
The Tigers feel they can beat anybody, anywhere, so they arrived at Blessed Trinity on Thursday afternoon with a firm belief that it would be a winning day.
It nearly was.
But in sports, “nearly” isn’t good enough.
That Troup pushed Blessed Trinity to the limit is, though, a reflection not just of the ability of this year’s team, but of the program that head coach Craig Garner has helped build over the years.
This year’s team was one of the best Garner had during his tenure.
The Tigers finished with a 25-9 record, and that was one of the highest win totals in the history of the program.
Troup also either won outright or shared a region championship for a third consecutive season.
The Tigers pitched the ball as well as just about any team in the state with Colby Williams and Garrett Casey overpowering opposing lineups, and they were an offensive juggernaut as well with Bliss leading the way from the top of the lineup.
Had Troup gotten past Blessed Trinity, it would have had an outstanding chance to win the program’s first state championship.
It wasn’t meant to be, but it was nonetheless a special spring for the Tigers.
The Blessed Trinity series was the swan song for one of the best players who has ever worn the Troup uniform in Ryan Bliss.
His offensive numbers were staggering.
Bliss led the team in nearly every offensive category, all while saving who knows how many runs with his dazzling work at shortstop.
Bliss has already signed with Auburn, but he could have a decision to make depending on where he’s taken in the baseball draft coming up in June.
The other two seniors were Brantly Robinson and Kenly Bridwell, and they were valuable players as well.
Bridwell was an outstanding defensive center fielder and a key cog in the lineup.
Robinson was Troup’s number three starter behind Williams and Casey, and he was also an outfielder and a capable guy at the bottom of the lineup.
Those three will obviously be missed, but the 2019 season is shaping up to be another big one with everyone else returning, including the two anchors in the rotation in Williams and Casey.
So look for the Tigers to be one of the state’s elite teams once again, and maybe the draw will be a little friendlier a year from now.
For the LaGrange Grangers, the season came to a close in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs against Northwest Whitfield
LaGrange pushed Northwest to a third and deciding game before falling 5-2.
The Grangers finished with a losing record and didn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs, but there’s no way to consider the season anything but a success.
After reaching the state semifinals in 2017, LaGrange bid farewell to a remarkable senior class that included a handful of players who are excelling on the college level.
It was an almost brand new team that took the field for the season opener in February, and while the Grangers struggled out of the gate, they went 8-4 in region play to finish third and return to the state playoffs.
As the early-season losses mounted, no one panicked, and by the time region play began the Grangers found their footing and were ready to roll.
The Grangers played their best baseball after head coach David Smart announced that he’d be leaving at the end of the season.
That’s a credit to the ability of the players to stay focused through what could have been a distracting situation, and Smart consistently expressed his appreciation to them for that.
It was the end of the road for a group of seniors who were a part of some memorable moments, most notably the 2017 season that ended in the semifinals.
The seniors are Cole Freeman, Ben Stogner, Ben Farrar, John Morgan, Seth Prather and PJ Thompson.
Everyone else returns, so the new head coach will have some talented pieces in place.
That new coach, by the way, is someone who held that position at LaGrange for more than 20 years and won a state championship in 2004.
Donnie Branch, who was inducted into the Georgia Dugout Club Hall of Fame in 2009, is set to take over the program once again.
Branch was the LaGrange coach from 1989 to 2012, and he won more than 500 games and was one of the most successful coaches in the state.
It’s tough losing a coach of Smart’s caliber, but it helps to be able to replace him with a Hall of Fame coach who was a member of the LaGrange High family for nearly 30 years.
The season has also drawn to a close for the LaGrange Academy and Lafayette Christian baseball teams.
Both teams had successful seasons.
LaGrange Academy won the GISA Region 1-AA region championship before losing to Thomas Jefferson in the first round of the state playoffs.
The Lafayette Christian School Cougars didn’t qualify for the GICAA state playoffs, but it was still a productive season.
Every player on the team will return next season, so the experience gained this spring was invaluable for those players.
The one local baseball team still playing are the Callaway Cavaliers, and they’ve reached the third round of the Class AA state playoffs.
Callaway advanced with a dramatic 9-7 victory over Rabun County on Thursday, with Braelin Mitchell hitting a go-ahead home run in the top of the seventh inning.
Callaway is 4-0 in the playoffs, and it is two wins away from reaching the semifinals for the second time in the history of the program.
Head coach Dusty Hubbard has done a phenomenal job with this program, and he’s closing in on his 300th win as the Cavaliers’ head coach.
Hubbard has had more talented teams at Callaway, but this group has come together nicely and is making a legitimate run at a state championship.