Big day for LaGrange High signees
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It had the makings of a memorable season for the LaGrange High baseball team.
When LaGrange swept a doubleheader from Spalding County on March 12 to extend its winning streak to four games, it had an impressive 9-3 record heading into the start of region competition.
Unfortunately for the Grangers, and in particular the 12 seniors, they didn’t get an opportunity to find out what would have happened for the remainder of the season.
One day after playing Spalding County, LaGrange found out that the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, and a month later everything was canceled.
It was a tough blow for a team with high hopes, and while the majority of the seniors are likely done playing baseball competitively, three of them will at least get an opportunity to keep playing the sport on the collegiate level.
Charles Crawford (Brown University), Mason Green (Marion Military Institute) and Walton Lanier (Central Alabama Community College) have all received athletic scholarships, and that accomplishment was celebrated during a ceremony at Granger Park on Sunday afternoon.
Another senior on the baseball team, Will Flowers, is playing football in college, and he and his teammates at East Tennessee State University are preparing for the season.
The three baseball signees were joined by family members, friends, coaches and teammates for the event that was held in the stadium where they’d spent so much time over the years.
Introducing Crawford, Green and Lanier was Donnie Branch, LaGrange’s head coach for the past two seasons.
Branch was appreciative of what all of the seniors, including the ones who aren’t going to play in college, have done for the program.
In addition to Crawford, Green, Lanier and Flowers, the other seniors are Jake Cardwell, Sam Yates, Brant Williams, Ethan Hadaway, Blake Hadaway, Cole Crawford, Cole Cox and Logan Karcher.
“We had a real special senior class, led by these three young men,” Branch said. “As we know, they didn’t get to finish, but the good news for them is they get to continue their baseball career at the college level. As you get in high school, you start working, and you just want to have an opportunity to play at the next level. The great thing about these three young men is, they took advantage of their opportunities.”
The first player Branch introduced was Charles Crawford, a four-year starter in baseball who was a third baseman and a pitcher.
Crawford, who was also a three-year starter as LaGrange’s quarterback, was a high achiever in athletics and academics, and he’ll attend Brown University, an Ivy League institution in Rhode Island.
“Charles, I met with him before we started practice (in 2018), and I told him I needed him to do more,” Branch said. “I said I need you to be more verbal, and vocal, because you’re admired by your teammates, and you’re admired in the school. I thought this year, he really got outside his comfort zone and did a tremendous job for us. He’s the total package because he’s a really good athlete, a great student, and high-character young man.”
Crawford, who helped LaGrange reach the state semifinals as a freshman and the second round of the state playoffs as a junior, thanked those who have helped him reach this point.
“First and foremost, I’d like to thank my family,” Crawford said. “None of this would have been possible without them. I just want to thank them for always supporting me, and always being there. It’s tough to be in so many places on so many weekends.”
Crawford also expressed his appreciation to Branch and all of the other baseball coaches at LaGrange High.
“They’ve been phenomenal in my development, and words can’t describe how much they mean to me,” Crawford said.
Crawford also thanked his coaches on his travel team, 643 DP, as well as trainer Kane Bradfield who helped keep him in tip-top shape.
The second player introduced on Sunday was Mason Green, LaGrange’s starting shortstop the past two seasons.
Green is heading to Alabama to join the Marion Military Institute baseball team.
“It’s a great feeling when you’re a coach, when you know who your shortstop is,” Branch said. “When I got the job, I let them earn it. What they’d done in the past didn’t really matter to me. Our coaches got together, and we hit balls, and we inter-squadded, and we played, and he was our shortstop. Any team that doesn’t have a steady shortstop isn’t a very good team. On top of that, he can hit.”
Green, Branch added,” just battled, did what he had to do. He’s a fierce competitor. He gets big hits at big moments.”
Green, like Crawford thanked those who have been a part of his life and helped him achieve his goal of being a college baseball player.
“I want to thank my family, my mom, my dad, my brother, my sister,” Green said. “I want to thank coach Branch for everything he did, and the rest of the staff, coach Kane (Bradfield), and all my coaches for helping me get where I am today.”
Lanier was a versatile player for LaGrange who excelled as a pitcher, and an infielder.
Lanier joins a Central Alabama program that used to be a popular destination for former LaGrange players.
“There was a point where, when I first started coaching a bunch of years ago, we sent I think 13 players in three years to Central Alabama under a different coach,” Branch said. “I wanted to re-establish with that school.”
Branch figures Lanier is the right player to help renew that pipeline of players to Central Alabama.
“I’m fully confident that Walt’s going to do great at Central Alabama,” Branch said.
Lanier, who was the last of the three players introduced, thanked everyone who took time out to help make it a special day for the players.
“I want to thank y’all for coming out, and I’m thankful especially for my family for pushing me to where I’m going, and for coach Branch getting me in front of these coaches to go places,” Lanier said. “And just thanks to all of my coaches for pushing me to get better every day. And coach Kane for keeping me in shape and getting me stronger.”