Productive day for Grangers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The LaGrange Grangers lost both of their games on Monday in Oxford, Ala.
While the Grangers may not have had a win to show for their effort, head coach Donnie Branch nonetheless called it a “highly productive” day.
LaGrange hung tough with two of Alabama’s elite teams in the games played at Chocoloco Park.
In the first game, against a powerhouse Bob Jones team that is nationally-ranked, LaGrange rallied for two runs in the seventh inning before losing 4-2.
In the second game, facing a formidable Florence squad, LaGrange had one bad inning on the way to a 7-1 loss.
LaGrange’s first game on Saturday was against a Bob Jones team that is ranked first in Alabama in Class AAAAAAA.
“They broke the record for home runs in the state of Alabama last year,” Branch said. “They have multiple Division I commits. We faced an Auburn commit pitcher. That was what we saw.”
It was a tall task, but the Grangers had a chance to win.
After rallying for two runs in the bottom of the seventh, LaGrange had the tying runs on base.
“We battled from behind and got to 4-2 in the seventh, runners on second and third one out, and we had the three and four hole hitters,” Branch said. “So that’s how close we came to coming back.”
Walton Lanier and Mason Green each had two hits and an RBI, and Cole Sanders and Sam Yates had one hit apiece.
On the mound, Jake Cardwell made his first career start, and after a rocky first inning he settled in and performed admirably.
Bob Jones scored three runs in the first inning, but it was held scoreless over the next three innings by Cardwell.
“I had a pitcher out there who’d never started a varsity game, and he struggled in the first, and then he settled in and went three more innings and gave up nothing,” Branch said.
Next to the mound was Matthew Morgan, and he was sharp. Morgan held Bob Jones to three hits and one unearned run in three innings while striking out four batters.
In the Florence game, the Grangers were up 1-0 after scoring a run in the top of the second.
That’s the way it remained until Florence scored five runs in the fourth inning and two more in the fifth.
Brant Williams started and pitched four innings for LaGrange, and Sam Yates and Blake Hadaway each threw one inning.
In the seventh inning, 10 of the 13 pitches Hadaway threw were strikes, and he held Florence to one hit and no runs while striking out two.
Landon Tucker had a hit and an RBI for LaGrange, and Green, Will Alford, Trent Bailey, Cole Sanders and Williams each had a hit.
“We were cruising along in the middle of that game,” Branch said. “They just dropped two or three in there, and got ahead.”
LaGrange opened the season with a 14-3 win over Hardaway last week before losing Saturday’s games.
The season is only three games old, and Branch said there is a lot left to be decided.
“We’ve probably got 13, 14 kids that are really in tight competition (for spots in the lineup),” Branch said. “And then we’ve probably got another eight, nine, 10 kids that are the same way pitching. So, we’re trying to figure out who’s going to emerge.”
Branch added that “I think we’ve got a core of about four or five kids that in the five weeks since we started look like everyday guys. Then we’ve got three or four other guys where we’re rolling guys in, trying to figure it out.”
Branch spent more than 20 years as LaGrange’s head baseball coach, and he was inducted into the Georgia Dugout Club Hall of Fame in 2009.
Branch’s first tenure as LaGrange’s coach ended following the 2012 season.
Now, Branch is back for round two, and he’s been pleased with the attitude of the players.
“Every day we’re still learning, but the kids, the parents, everybody has been great,” Branch said.
Branch added that “what we’re looking for are our standards, how we work, how we play, how we practice, and the results will take care of themselves.”
LaGrange was supposed to host Griffin on Wednesday, but that game was postponed.
If the weather cooperates, LaGrange will host Hardaway on Friday.
LaGrange visits Griffin on Monday before playing four games in three days in the LaGrange Toyota Invitational beginning on Feb. 28.
By the time LaGrange opens Region 5-AAAA play on March 18 against Cartersville, it will have played 16 games.