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Learning experience for Grangers

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

The LaGrange Grangers came up empty in the LaGrange Toyota Invitational, but head coach Donnie Branch considered it anything but a lost weekend.

LaGrange went 0-4 in the tournament that included elite teams from Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

LaGrange lost two of its games by two runs, and even Friday’s 15-1 loss to South Forsyth was close until things got out of control late.

LaGrange closed its tournament stay with a 10-1 loss to Buford in the seventh-place game on Saturday night.

“I knew we were out-manned a little bit, though in three games we were in it late,” Branch said.

Since the Grangers played so many games in a short period of time, everyone on the varsity roster got an opportunity to participate.

In the Buford game, senior Darren Leonard made his varsity debut as a pitcher, and he threw the final two innings.

“He’s never pitched in a varsity game,” Branch said. “He’s a team captain. So that’s huge. I had four or five kids get their first varsity at-bat. Stuff like that is important, so it was good. We can go all kind of places to get wins, but this was more valuable.”

In LaGrange’s first tournament game on Thursday, it dropped a hard-fought 5-3 decision to Niceville.

LaGrange had a 3-1 lead before Niceville rallied for four runs in the seventh inning.

Matthew Morgan delivered a terrific outing on the mound with four scoreless innings.

On Friday, South Forsyth was clinging to a 2-1 lead when it broke it open with four runs in the sixth inning and nine runs in the seventh.

Brant Williams started the South Forsyth game and pitched five effective innings.

“I took Brant out, because he was at the pitch count,” Branch said. “We had to let a couple of guys stay out there after that. Brant Williams tied them in a knot.”

On Saturday morning, LaGrange was matched up against Trinity Christian, which would go on to win the tournament championship.

LaGrange was trailing 5-0 when it pushed four runs across in the top of the sixth inning to get within a run.

Trinity Christian tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth, and it held on for a 6-4 victory.

Will Alford and Charles Crawford each had a hit and an RBI for LaGrange, and Matthew Morgan and Brant Williams had RBIs.

Wesley Kuhn and Will Flowers each had a hit for the Grangers.

Walton Lanier was LaGrange’s starting pitcher, and he threw five innings, and only two of the five runs he allowed were earned.

Landon Tucker pitched the sixth inning for LaGrange.

In Saturday night’s game against Buford, Will Alford had two hits and an RBI for LaGrange.

Trent Bailey, Cole Crawford, Walton Lanier and Jake Cardwell also had hits.

Wesley Kuhn, Christian Alford, Landon Tucker and Darren Leonard each pitched for the Grangers.

Kuhn got the start, and he pitched two scoreless innings.

In addition to participating in the games, LaGrange’s players were also responsible for helping out with field maintenance, and that was a big job because of all of the rain.

Part of their duties included removing the tarp from the field, something Branch said they did eight times.

“The kids would come here at 6:30 in the morning, and take it off. Which is work,” Branch said. “Our kids get the worst end of the tournament. We play the host. So we get kind of ripped off on hitting time.”

LaGrange (2-7) has three home games this week against Upson-Lee on Wednesday, Smiths Station on Thursday, and Callaway on Friday.

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