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Seniors shine for Grangers

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

A season that seemed to be falling into place nicely for the LaGrange Grangers came to a disappointing conclusion.

After sweeping a doubleheader from Spalding County on March 12, LaGrange had won four consecutive games to improve to 9-4, and the team was looking forward to the start of region play the following week.

Unfortunately for the Grangers, what the rest of the season held in store will forever remain a mystery.

The season was suspended and eventually canceled because of the coronavirus threat, so LaGrange’s final games were the ones against Spalding County.

As late as last week there was the possibility the season could be salvaged, but that hope was dashed on Friday when the Georgia High School Association announced that the remainder of the spring sports seasons had been canceled.

While LaGrange head coach Donnie Branch was pleased to see the success the team had, what he’ll mostly remember is how close-knit everyone was.

“Everybody worries about wins and losses, but those kids, they love practice, they love the bus rides, they love the locker room, and just being a part of it,” Branch said. “Nobody really cared about who played, it was the experience of being a part of it, and just enjoying the journey. That’s a big deal.”

On the field, it was shaping up to be a special season for LaGrange.

The Grangers started out hot, winning five of their first six games, and they allowed one or fewer runs in each of their victories.

After losing three of four games against elite competition in the LaGrange Toyota Invitational, LaGrange won its next four games, setting the stage for the Region 5-AAAA opener against Cartersville.

That game never happened, and a little less than a month after play was suspended, the players found out their season was done.

Like every other spring-sports team, the Grangers will miss out on so much, including a chance for the upperclassmen to be recognized on senior night.

“We’ll do something sometime (to recognize the seniors), whenever it’s OK to do it,” Branch said. “We want to honor them.”

At least four of the seniors will get the chance to play a sport in college. Charles Crawford (Brown University), Mason Green (Marion Military) and Walton Lanier (Central Alabama) are going to play baseball in college, while Will Flowers (East Tennessee State) will play football.

A handful of other seniors may still sign to play baseball in college, while others are going to leave the sport behind.

The seniors include Charles Crawford, Mason Green, Walton Lanier, Will Flowers, Sam Yates, Jake Cardwell, Brant Williams, Ethan Hadaway, Cole Crawford, Blake Hadaway, Ethan Hadaway, Cole Cox and Logan Karcher.

“This group of seniors, we had good players, but it wasn’t like we had a bunch of first-round draft picks,” Branch said. “At the same time, we had first-round draft-pick character. You just go through those seniors, and these guys are top-flight people.”

Branch added that “I’m proud of some of the ones that didn’t get to play much that are seniors, and how unselfish some of them are. The Hadaway brothers, and Cole Cox, guys like that. And Sam Yates, who played probably the best game of his career the last game of the season.”

Some of those seniors helped LaGrange’s pitching staff lock down opposing lineups.

Williams, Cardwell and Lanier were outstanding as starters, and Charles Crawford had yet to give up a run as the Grangers’ closer.

In his final start of the season, Cardwell pitched seven superb innings with eight strikeouts, and he held Spalding County to three unearned runs and three hits.

“He’s 150 pounds of competitiveness,” Branch said of Cardwell. “His trick is, he lets them get themselves out. He bought into the theory of, I’ll put it here and let you get yourself out.”

Williams, who was also an outstanding outfielder, threw a seven-inning three-hitter in a 2-1 victory over Upson-Lee.

“Brant could have gone plenty of places (to play in college), but he chose his academics to be the most important thing,” Branch said. “Brant was having a great year, and he could have played somewhere, and hopefully some others will get an opportunity, too.”

Another one of the seniors is Cole Crawford, who was excelling as a catcher this season.

“Cole, I was loving the opportunity to work with him,” Branch said. “He kind of did whatever we needed him to do. We needed him to be an outfielder last year because we had Trent (Bailey), and this year we needed him to catch some. While I think Zach (Thompson) is really good, I didn’t want to lay it on him with a senior team. He was getting better and better. Cole is really, really smart, he’s very passionate. He’s a fun kid.”

While the seniors will be missed, Branch believes the future is bright with some gifted players returning, including pitcher and first baseman Matthew Morgan, outfielder Will Alford, infielder Landon Tucker, and catcher Zach Thompson.

Some other players who didn’t see much time on the field this season will have increased roles next season, and that includes pitchers Trevor Booton and Chase Williams.

“Trevor Booton is probably a Division I offer,” Branch said. “He’s 6-3, he already throws harder than everybody we have. He just doesn’t know how to pitch yet, and it’ll be my job to teach him.”

Branch is looking forward to getting back on the field with the players who’ll be a part of the 2021 team, but when that will happen remains to be seen.

“I worry about when we’ll be able to start doing some stuff,” Branch said.

If there is a bright spot to what’s happening, Branch believes no one will take sports, or anything else, for granted again.

“The one thing everybody, and not just sports, there’s going to be a new appreciation for a lot of things,” Branch said.