Grangers on the road again
Published 11:18 pm Wednesday, May 1, 2019
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
They’ve already found a way to beat one quality opponent on the road, and the LaGrange Grangers will try to do it again today.
LaGrange, which beat Stephens County in the opening round of the Class AAAA state playoffs, will travel to Roswell today for a second-round test.
Blessed Trinity, a perennial state-championship contender, will present a big-time challenge.
Blessed Trinity (26-6 overall) won the Region 7-AAAA championship, and it swept Ridgeland 16-0 and 11-1 in the first round of the playoffs.
It’s a team with talent all over the field, and shortstop CJ Abrams is one of the country’s top high-school players, and he’s projected to be a high first-round pick in this summer’s draft.
The good news for the Grangers is that facing a top-tier opponent is nothing new.
The Grangers, who finished third in Region 5-AAAA, have a losing record, but they’ve played a schedule as formidable as any team in the state.
“They’re a quality program,” LaGrange head coach Donnie Branch said of Blessed Trinity. “They’ve got a high draft pick at shortstop. He’s supposed to go in the top five. So they’ve got guys. They’re very athletic. They’ve got four or five kids that are football kids, or they’re high draft picks.”
But, Branch added, “one advantage we have is, we’ve played a lot of really good teams. There’s probably nobody that’s played a better schedule than we’ve played.”
The Grangers have also already shown they have what it takes to win on the road in the playoffs.
LaGrange and Stephens County split the first two games of their series, forcing a winner-take-all game three. With Charles Crawford throwing a complete game, LaGrange beat Stephens County 5-3 to advance.
“Our mental toughness and our focus, and just them understanding is so much better (than earlier in the season),” Branch said. “We handle adversity so much better. Early in the year, little things would hurt us, a bad call, an error, or something negative. It’s gotten better and better. It’s not perfect.”
How far the Grangers have come was evident in a game with everything on the line.
“Game three it was on display,” Branch said. “They scored first, and it wasn’t looking good. We got out of it, and then we responded. They got close, and we added another run. We did exactly what you’ve got to do. And we made some plays late in the game. So I’m liking where we’re at. We’re going to play really hard.”
A player who has been a key to LaGrange’s success all season is senior catcher Trent Bailey. Bailey has caught nearly every inning of every game this season, and while he has been a rock defensively, he has worked well with the pitchers and been integral to their success.
Bailey has also come through with some huge hits, including a two-run double in game three against Stephens County.
“Numbers don’t show what you get,” Branch said. “You get leadership, and then he does a great job behind the plate, and then the responsibility of handling our pitchers. And then he’s throwing in some big hits on top of it.”
An offense that struggled at times early on has made dramatic strides as the season has progressed.
Walton Lanier is seemingly always on base at the top of the lineup, and Mason Green does an outstanding job at the second spot in the order.
Will Alford, Bailey and Charles Crawford anchor the middle of the lineup, and Wesley Kuhn, Landon Tucker, Brant Williams, Matthew Morgan, Cole Crawford, Cole Sanders and Will Flowers have also been key contributors.
Pitching-wise the Grangers are in excellent shape. Matthew Morgan has stepped up to be a staff ace, and he was the game one starter and winning pitcher against Stephens County.
Jake Cardwell struggled a big in a game two loss to Stephens County, but he has been a reliable pitcher all season, and Crawford went the distance in game three.
Branch has plenty of arms he can call upon out of the bullpen, which comes in handy the longer a series goes on.
In the Stephens County series, Landon Tucker, Mason Green, Brant Williams were the three relievers Branch used, and they didn’t allow any earned runs between them.
Whatever happens today, it has already been a successful season.
After getting knocked out in the first round of the playoffs last season, LaGrange has at least one playoff win to its credit this year.
“We wanted the seniors to go out and take it another step from last year, which they’ve done,” Branch said. “So now, we’re greedy. Now we want to make it something special. I feel like our kids are going to go up and really compete. If we do that, the result will take care of itself.”
LAGRANGE VS. BLESSED TRINITY
WHAT: Second round of Class AAAA state playoffs
WHEN: Thursday, 4:30 p.m.
WHERE: Blessed Trinity (Roswell)
HOW THEY GOT HERE: LaGrange finished third in Region 5-AAAA and beat Stephens County in the first round of the playoffs; Blessed Trinity finished first ion Region 7-AAAA and beat Ridgeland in the first round of the playoffs
UP NEXT: The winner will play either Upson-Lee or Woodward Academy