Exclusive company for Noles
Published 11:13 pm Tuesday, November 5, 2019
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
There are no sure things in sports, but during his senior season at Columbus State, Korey Noles was pretty close.
During a memorable 2008 season, Noles was 13-0 with eight complete games, and he posted a 1.73 earned run average.
That season put the cap on a remarkable collegiate career for Noles, who led the LaGrange Grangers to a state championship in 2004 before heading to Columbus State.
For his contributions to Columbus State’s baseball program, Noles has been selected to the school’s athletic Hall of Fame, and he and the other inductees were recognized during a ceremony in October.
Noles had plenty of supporters there, including members of his family, and he was also able to catch up with former teammates and coaches.
“I was beyond honored and thrilled by it,” Noles said. “Everybody was just very excited to be there and support me, just like they did during my playing days. It was very special, and they treated us the night before to a dinner and a parade. They really treated us right.”
Noles appreciated everyone who was there for him, including his college catcher Trent Bianco, who is now the head baseball coach at Heard County.
“He caught for my first three years, and he graduated the year before I did,” Noles said. “I gave him a lot of credit. The catcher makes the pitcher look really good. When a pitcher can’t find the strike zone, that catcher maybe can frame one right to get the momentum going again. And he��s calling the pitches, too.”
Noles enjoyed a spectacular senior season at LaGrange to lead the program to its first and only state championship.
Noles was not only one of the state’s best pitchers, winning 11 games with an earned run average around 1.00, but he was also an elite hitter with a batting average well above .400.
In the third and final game of the state-championship series against Cartersville, Noles hit a home run to help his team win 13-10.
“It’s one of the best seasons in LaGrange High history, no doubt,” said Donnie Branch, LaGrange’s head coach during that 2004 championship season. “And he did it during the state playoffs, and the state finals. A lot of people do forget how good of a hitter he was. He had a lot of pop. He could drive the ball. He was a legitimate good hitter, and clutch. He was just clutch period.”
Branch added that “he was very humble, and still is, but at the same time he’s sneaky confident. He really has a lot of faith that he’s going to get the job done. He has no fear in any situation against anybody anywhere.
“Korey maximized his God-given ability, and the thing about him is he’s very coachable, and really smart. He knew how to pitch, and he knew how to get hitters out, and when he was coached he soaked it in and applied it. He got better and better, because he liked to be coached.”
For Noles, everything came together perfectly during that magical, championship season.
“You just get into a confident mindset, and you’re rolling as a team,” Noles said. “And you’re almost like destined to make it happen.”
Noles and Josh Edmondson were a dynamic duo on the pitcher’s mound, and the Grangers rode their arms all the way to a state title.
“We were missing one piece that graduated (from the 2003 team), and that was (pitcher) Anthony Arrington,” Noles said. “So Josh and I kind of knew we had to put the team on our backs, and go out and do the best we could and try to go further in the playoffs than we did the year before. And we went out on a special note.”
When LaGrange won that wild game three against Cartersville with a double play in the seventh inning, the celebration was on.
“We always dreamed about piling up in the middle of the field, and to see the first baseman make that catch, it doesn’t really sink in, and then you’re just celebrating,” Noles said.
Noles had plenty of options when it came time to choose a college, and he decided to stay close to home and play NCAA Division II baseball.
By the time Noles was done at Columbus State, he had a 33-11 record, tying him for the program record for wins in a career.
Noles helped Columbus State reach the national championship game in 2007, and he then went out and enjoyed a season for the ages in 2008.
“I could have gone to Georgia, but I didn’t want to go just to say I went Division I,” Noles said. “I wanted to go where I knew I could get right in there and play. And I didn’t want to bounce around. I wanted to go somewhere close to home, where I could play competitively, and just do the best I could to make a name for myself. I had no idea the Hall of Fame would be in that.”
As for that spectacular final season at Columbus State, Noles said “with wisdom and being a senior, you know the ropes, and you know how to approach and prepare for games, and how to pitch hitters.”
In 2008 Noles was selected in the 24th round of the draft by the Philadelphia Phillies, and he spent parts of three seasons in the organization.
Noles had a 6-4 career record with a 2.32 earned run average, but he decided to hang up his glove and cleats following the 2010 season.
“It’s definitely difficult,” Noles said of life as a minor-league player. “A lot of people probably wouldn’t understand it unless you’ve done it. It’s hard living in a suitcase for six months, and minor leaguers aren’t getting paid much. It’s tough. It’s definitely a grind to make it.”
Noles, who is married with two children, remains involved in the game as an instructor at Game On Training.
At Game On, Noles works alongside Donnie Branch, who had a lot to do with his development as a player.
“Coach Branch plays a major role in the successes I’ve had, and of course my dad’s done a bunch for me and my parents have been very supportive,” Noles said. “For (Branch) to teach me the art of pitching, you’re not just up there throwing, you’re working the plate, you’re setting up batters, you’re changing speeds. You learn all that stuff, and it’s largely due to him.”
While Noles appreciates what he learned from Branch, the coach was grateful to be able to lead a player who was first-class on and off the field.
“He is as high character as you can have,” Branch said. “He’s a really good dad, and a family man. He came from a great family. They’re just good folks, and that’s a really good group of people. He was that way when he walked in our door. It’s hard to coach that. He’s just a really good person.”