Pitcher shines as Troup tops Cartersville
Published 12:29 am Thursday, March 28, 2019
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
In the biggest game of the year to this point, Troup’s Jackson Knox wanted the baseball.
As Troup prepared for Wednesday’s showdown with Cartersville, head coach Craig Garner let Knox know that he’d be on the mound, and the senior pitcher was fine with that.
When he got the news, Knox said his reaction was “we’re winning. I was ready.”
That confidence was not misplaced.
Knox, a right-hander who has signed with Marion Military Institute in Alabama, delivered a complete-game gem to lead Troup to a 4-1 victory over the state’s second-ranked Class AAAA team.
It was tied 1-1 when the Tigers plated three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to take the lead, and with the help of a game-ending double play, Knox finished off the Purple Hurricanes in the top of the seventh.
It was far and away the most important game Knox has thrown during his high-school career, and he was up to the challenge.
Knox threw a five-hitter, and he had eight strikeouts and no walks.
“He’s been doing it all year, filling up the zone, and telling them hit my stuff,” said senior Colby Williams, who played shortstop behind Knox and had a key two-run single in the sixth inning. “And they couldn’t do it. He was rolling groundball after groundball and getting strikeouts. It was a dang good outing.”
Knox has struggled in the first inning of some of his previous starts, but he set Cartersville down in order in the top of the first.
“I didn’t have a rough first inning for once,” Knox said. “I just went right at them. It paid off.”
With the win, the Tigers (6-11 overall) moved into first place in Region 5-AAAA with a 3-0 record, while Cartersville (15-4 overall) fell to 4-1 in the region.
They’ll play again on Friday, with the scene shifting to Cartersville.
It hasn’t always been a smooth journey for the Tigers this season, but they’ve put themselves in position to compete for a region championship.
“That’s the first thing we touched on,” Garner said. “We’ve dealt with so much. It’s been a bumpy ride. That’s what you try to teach them is to persevere. Can you weather the storm?”
The Tigers handled adversity just fine in Wednesday’s game.
After Cartersville scored the tying run on an error in the top of the sixth, Troup answered with three runs of its own in the bottom of the inning.
The rally began when freshman Carson Garner was hit by a pitch by hard-throwing Mason Barnett.
“That’s a guy throwing 93 mph, and we’ve got a freshman there taking it,” Williams said. “That was big. That’s huge.”
Next up was Caleb McCurry, and he walked on a 3-2 pitch to put men on first and second.
That brought Trace Meadows to the plate, and he put down a perfect bunt down the third-base line, and he easily reached first base with a base hit to load the bases.
With Cooper Doughman at the plate, a pitch got away from the Cartersville catcher, and Carson Garner raced home with the go-ahead run.
“The hit by pitch, and the bunt, those are the things that we preach,” coach Garner said.
With one out, Williams stepped up with men on second and third, and he drove the ball into the outfield for a two-run single, giving Troup a 4-1 lead.
Williams got his hit against Cartersville relief pitcher Gage Morris, and those two have some history together.
Last summer, Williams and Morris were teammates on Team Georgia, and they got to be friends during the time they spent together in Oklahoma.
“We didn’t room together, but we were together all the time,” Williams said. “He (said after the game he) wanted to throw me another curveball, but he threw me a fastball and left it over the plate. He’s a good dude.”
Morris got a pair of strikeouts to end the bottom of the sixth inning, but the damage had been done.
One of the inning’s biggest moments came when Meadows legged out an infield single on his bunt.
Moments earlier, Meadows committed an error at third base that allowed Cartersville to score its lone run in the top of the sixth inning, but he shrugged off that miscue to make a massive contribution to the three-run rally.
“That’s what we try to do,” Williams said. “Don’t bring the field to the dugout. Don’t bring the dugout to the field. Trace Meadows got the job done. That was a big inning for us.”
Williams, who has been one of the state’s top pitchers the past few years, was ready to take the mound for the seventh inning if needed, but Knox wanted to finish what he started.
“I was ready, but he came out of the dugout and said I want to finish this game,” Williams said. “So he went out there and got the job done.”
Chandler Tromza reached on a one-out single, but Troup turned a nifty double play to end the suspense.
Williams fielded a J.P. Martin grounder at shortstop, and he flipped the ball to second baseman Colton Webb for the force-out.
Webb made the throw to first baseman Caleb McCurry, who came through with an outstanding one-hop catch on a ball in the dirt to complete the double play.
For the first four innings, Knox and Barnett were locked into a scoreless pitcher’s duel.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Troup broke through for the game’s first run.
With one out, Colton Webb and Cade Garner had back-to-back singles to put men on first and third.
Barnett got a strikeout for the second out, but a wild pitch allowed Webb to sprint home with the go-ahead run.
Cartersville’s rally in the top of the sixth began with a two-out single by Preston Welchel, and he advanced to second on a passed ball before scoring when Barnett’s grounder was mis-played.
With the go-ahead run on second, Troup’s infielders huddled on the mound to regroup and focus on getting the third out.
“Colton was saying I believe in all y’all,” Knox said. “We were picking Trace up, telling him when we came back in that we were going to score for you.”
Knox got a groundout for the third out, and Troup did indeed score in the bottom of the inning to reclaim the lead.
Webb had two of Troup’s five hits, and Meadows, Williams and Cade Garner each had one hit.
Ian Inaba had two of Cartersville’s five hits.