LaGrange falls to strong Smiths Station squad
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The record isn’t where they’d like it to be, but it’s not like the LaGrange Grangers have been playing a bunch of cupcakes.
LaGrange continued its formidable non-region schedule with a home game against an unbeaten Smiths Station squad on Thursday afternoon.
After falling behind by five runs, LaGrange made things interesting by bringing the go-ahead run to the plate in the bottom of the fifth inning, but it was Smiths Station pulling away late for an 11-4 victory.
LaGrange fell to 2-9 heading into today’s home game against Callaway, and most of those losses have come against teams ranked in the top 10 in their respective states and classifications.
LaGrange has five more games before beginning its Region 5-AAAA schedule against Cartersville on March 18.
“You’re probably never as good as you think you are, and we’re not as bad as some might think we are,” LaGrange head coach Donnie Branch said. “About seven of the losses have been to ranked teams, and (Smiths Station) is undefeated. They’re legit.”
While the Grangers were unable to avoid a sixth consecutive loss, there were some positive signs in Thursday’s game.
One day after being held to two hits and one run by Upson-Lee, LaGrange had seven hits and four runs against Smiths Station.
Will Alford, hitting in the number three spot in the order, had two hits, including a double, and he knocked in a run.
Trent Bailey added two hits and an RBI, Cole Crawford had an RBI single, Mason Green had two hits and a walk and two runs scored, and Landon Tucker had a hit and a walk.
Smiths Station, which averages more than seven runs per game, was led by leadoff hitter Hunter Donaldson, who had two hits with a home run while driving in five runs.
Clay Weatherly also hit a home run, and he had two hits and three RBIs.
On the mound, Walton Lanier and Jake Cardwell each pitched three innings for LaGrange.
Blake Hadaway and Sam Yates combined to get three outs in the seventh inning.
Weatherly pitched five innings to get the win for Smiths Station.
The Grangers took the early lead with a run in the bottom of the first inning.
Green got things started with a base hit, and he made it to second base on an error.
With two outs, Cole Crawford put the ball in play to the left side of the infield, and Green scored from second when the throw to first went awry.
The top of the third inning was a tough one for LaGrange, with Smiths Station plating six runs to take control.
Donaldson had the big blow in the inning with a three-run home run that came after back-to-back walks to jump-start the inning.
“We’re playing hard. We just had a really horrible inning defensively and pitching in the third where we led off with two walks, and then a guy hit a pop up we didn’t catch,” Branch said. “And then we had a couple of balls in the infield we didn’t play.”
LaGrange got one of those runs back in the fifth inning, with Crawford coming through with a two-out, RBI single to score Green.
In the top of the fifth, left fielder Christian Alford made a phenomenal diving catch on a foul ball, and that was the start of a perfect inning for Cardwell.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Grangers were a few feet away from taking the lead.
Brant Williams was hit by a pitch leading off the inning, and two batters later, Bailey ripped the ball to left field to put two men on with one out.
Next up was Alford, and his pop-up landed in a perfect spot just out of reach of the first baseman, and Williams scored to get the Grangers within three.
With two outs, Tucker walked to load the bases, bringing Wesley Kuhn to the plate.
Kuhn drove the ball deep toward center field, and it was caught just short of the fence.
Had the ball sailed a few feet further, it would have been a grand slam and the Grangers would have led.
After Smiths Station put three runs on the board in the top of the sixth, LaGrange plated one run in the bottom of the inning.
With two outs, Bailey’s infield single brought in Christian Alford, and Smiths Station led 9-4.
Smiths Station capped the scoring with two runs in the seventh inning.
After today’s game with Callaway, LaGrange completes a busy stretch with Saturday’s home game against Griffin.
Including the LaGrange Toyota Invitational, LaGrange will have played eight games in 10 days by the time the Griffin game comes around.
That stretch has tasked a pitching staff that is already short-handed with Charles Crawford unable to throw.
“We’re struggling without Charles,” Branch said. “That’s really hurting us. We’re a pitcher short, and we’ve got four games in four days.”