LaGrange continues state journey
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The road to Columbus will go through LaGrange.
The LaGrange High softball team has had a phenomenal season that included a victory over Denmark in the first round of the Class AAAA state tournament last week.
Now, LaGrange is two victories away from a berth in the eight-team state finals in Columbus.
LaGrange will host a best-of-three state-playoff series against Shaw, with the winner advancing to Columbus.
They’ll play a doubleheader on Tuesday at 4 p.m., and if needed, a third-and-deciding game would be played on Wednesday.
“I’m really proud of my team,” said Jacee Marable, a junior first baseman. “We’ve put in the work.”
LaGrange had its hands full with Denmark.
After winning the series opener 7-0 behind Camden Smith’s complete-game shutout, LaGrange lost the second game 4-2.
LaGrange shrugged off that disappointment and overwhelmed Denmark 9-2 in game three to earn a spot in the second round.
Getting a state win is another step forward for a program that is on the upswing.
After a losing campaign in 2016, LaGrange went 16-11 in 2017, although the season ended with a disappointing loss to Cedartown in the opening round of the state playoffs.
LaGrange was even better last season, posting a 22-9 record, and it fell to Oconee in a first-round state series that went the full three games.
The Lady Grangers (22-11) have continued to progress this season, getting that long-awaited state win, and it’s a core group of players leading the way.
LaGrange doesn’t have any seniors, but there are six juniors, all of whom have been key members of the program since they were freshmen.
Most of those juniors grew up playing the game together and some of them were on the same travel team.
One of those juniors, center fielder Malone Aldridge, said “it helps a lot” for the players to have the tight-knit relationship.
“We’re all so close,” Aldridge said. “We have a really good bond.”
The other juniors are first baseman Jacee Marable, pitcher Camden Smith, second baseman Madison Dennis, short stop Abby Vanhoose and third baseman Kirsten Williams.
Smith, after a strong showing against Denmark, is 16-4 with a 2.25 earned run average, and she has 184 strikeouts in 155.1 innings.
Smith held Denmark to two runs in 19 innings pitched.
Smith has also produced at the plate with a .345 batting average, and she has three home runs and 18 RBIs.
Marable is hitting .381 with 11 doubles and 19 RBIs, and Vanhoose has a .380 batting average with two home runs and a team-leading 28 RBIs.
Vanhoose hit a two-run home run in the first inning of game three against Denmark that helped LaGrange get off to a fast start.
Aldridge is hitting .350 with two doubles and 27 RBIs, and Dennis is hitting .320 with 23 RBIs and a team-best 32 runs scored. Williams is hitting .294, and she has 12 RBIs and 22 runs scored.
Also for LaGrange, Holly Lynn (catcher), Kaylee Bryant (outfielder) is the left fielder, and Macee Stone (pitcher) have been key members of the starting lineup through the season.
Lynn, who has played nearly every inning at catcher, is hitting .341 with four home runs and 23 RBIs.
Mary James Stogner and Kate Asbell have contributed as well, primarily as pinch runners.
While some of the other varsity players haven’t played that much, head coach Gabby Heath said they’ve still done their part to help the team.
“They contribute at practice,” Heath said. “They have to play positions, and they show our other players what it means to be a teammate, because they’re constantly working, even though they aren’t getting the playing time.”
Heath is also grateful for the support of her assistant coaches who have put in plenty of time and effort.
Heath’s fellow coaches are Craig Mobley, Jim Reed and Jeff Skinner.
“I could not do it without them,” Heath said. “The time they put into, Craig, and Jim, and coach Skinner.”
LaGrange is a Shaw team that pulled off a first-round upset to advance at state.
Shaw, the number four seed from Region 1-AAAA, beat Region 3-AAAA champion Burke County in three games.
LAGRANGE VS. SHAW
WHAT: Second round of Class AAAA state playoffs
WHERE: Granger Park
WHEN: Tuesday, 4 p.m. (doubleheader); Wednesday, if needed
ON THE LINE: Winner advances to state finals in Columbus