Pitching depth a key for Grangers
Published 2:13 am Wednesday, April 24, 2019
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
If it comes down to an arms race, LaGrange High baseball coach Donnie Branch likes his team’s chances.
A strength of LaGrange’s team this season has been the depth on the pitching staff.
“I think we pitched 13 guys this year,” Branch said.
It’s unlikely LaGrange will need that many pitchers in its best-of-three state-playoff series against Stephens County, but you never know.
LaGrange, the third-place team from Region 5-AAAA, will visit Region 8-AAAA runner-up Stephens County in the opening round of the state playoffs.
They’ll play a doubleheader on Wednesday at 4 p.m., and if needed, a third and deciding game would be Thursday at 1 p.m.
Branch is going into the series with Charles Crawford, Matthew Morgan and Jake Cardwell penciled in as the starting pitchers, although he’s not sure what order they’ll pitch in.
Beyond those three, Branch has numerous options.
“If we get into a pitching contest with depth, if you keep running out guys, I like us against anybody,” Branch said. “Our three against their three, it’s pretty tough, but we go deep. We’ve got quality arms when you throw in Wesley Kuhn, and Walt Lanier, and Mason Green, and Landon Tucker, and you just keep going.”
It’s been a different story for Stephens County, which has three pitchers who have thrown the bulk of the innings this season.
It’s a senior-driven staff led by Dawson Sorrells, who’ll be the likely game one starter.
“Everyone is unanimous that they are pitcher-driven,” Branch said. “They have three front-line pitchers. Not one, or two, but three guys with a lot of experience.”
If the plan comes together for Stephens County, the starters will throw nearly every inning during the playoffs.
“They’ve got three starters, and two guys that relieve,” Branch said. “You can’t find another guy who’s pitched. That shows you. Their starters go out and throw 105 to 110 pitches every game.”
All three of LaGrange’s projected starters have thrown well this season.
Cardwell, who has been used as a starter and a reliever, threw 4 1/3 scoreless and hitless innings in relief in last week’s 3-2 win over Troup.
“I don’t have a lot of velocity, so you’ve got to find a way to make it work,” Cardwell said. “I aim my pitches very good, and hopefully they’ll hit grounders.”
Morgan, a sophomore, has thrown complete games against Troup and Cartersville this season.
In last week’s 2-1 loss to Troup, Morgan only allowed base runners in one of the six innings he pitched.
Crawford missed significant time with arm soreness this season, but he has performed well since returning to the rotation.
It helps all of the pitchers to have senior Trent Bailey behind the plate.
Bailey provides a veteran, stable presence at catcher, and he has also been a key member in the lineup.
Bailey has two walk-off hits this season, including one in last week’s win over Troup.
“It helps so much,” Cardwell said of having Bailey on the team. “He’s a hell of a catcher, and I love him to death. There’s nobody I want other than him.”
While the pitching has been there all season, the Grangers have struggled at times to score runs, but Branch likes where the offense is heading into the playoffs.
“That’s been our issue all year. We’ve never got enough guys going at the same time,” Branch said. “But I still think our best could be ahead of us. I was watching us hit Saturday morning, and we are so much better. Our approach at the plate is so much better than it was at the beginning of the season. Sometimes the results haven’t come in yet, but I told Chad (Grant), we are so much better hitters.”
Walton Lanier has done a terrific job at the top of the lineup, and Charles Crawford provides a big bat at the number two spot in the order.
Mason Green has been one of LaGrange’s most reliable hitters, and he had two hits and two RBIs in the win over Troup. Bailey, Will Alford and Wesley Kuhn anchor the middle of the lineup, and Cole Crawford, Jake Cardwell, Brant Williams, Will Flowers and Landon Tucker have also been key members of the lineup.
The Grangers have a losing record overall, but they’ve played an extremely challenging schedule that Branch believes has the players prepared for what’s ahead.
“We’ve seen nationally-ranked teams,” Branch said. “Everybody I talked to said they’re very good, very well-coached, their kids play hard. So we knew we have our hands full. At the same time, we have seen that. We’ve played a brutal schedule. Hopefully that’ll help us.”
Branch added that “the great thing about the playoffs is, it’s not who’s the best, it’s who plays the best that day.”