Senior pitcher powers LaGrange
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
This one lived up to the billing.
The LaGrange High and Rockmart softball teams both enjoyed ultra-successful 2019 seasons, and expectations are high once again this year for both teams with so many gifted players returning.
On Saturday afternoon at Shuford Fields, those two softball titans faced off in a game in the Callaway Classic, and they played a thriller.
Offense was hard to come by with LaGrange’s Camden Smith and Rockmart’s Emilee Register having their way with the opposing hitters.
In the end, it was Smith and the Lady Grangers coming away with the 1-0 victory to finish with a 2-0 record in the Callaway Classic.
Smith not only pitched the complete-game shutout, but her sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh
inning brought in fellow senior Madison Dennis with the winning run.
Smith also tossed a shutout earlier on Saturday as LaGrange opened its season with a 5-0 win over Troup.
In the Rockmart game, Smith and Register faced off in a classic pitcher’s duel, with the duo giving up just seven hits while combining for 12 strikeouts.
It’s the sort of game LaGrange may need to win down the road in the playoffs when runs are often at a premium.
“We would rather play games like that, so they’re used to that feeling,” LaGrange head coach Gabby Heath said. “We’re not as successful at the plate, so we’ve got to figure it out.”
That LaGrange was in a position to win a game with just one run was a testament to the performance of Smith, who has been the team’s starting pitcher since game one of her freshman season.
LaGrange reached the Class AAAA eight-team state finals in Columbus last season thanks in large part to the performance of Smith, who was 18-4 with a sterling 2.11 earned run average.
On Saturday, Smith picked up right where she left off with dominant performances against Troup and Rockmart.
Smith dealt with knee issues last season, but she’s fully healthy now after undergoing surgery in the offseason.
“Now she’s more confident, and there’s not that thing lingering there,” Heath said. “There’s more confidence there, and that confidence spills over to everyone else.”
LaGrange’s game-winning rally began with one out in the bottom of the seventh.
Dennis, LaGrange’s second baseman, reached on a base hit, and she stole second and made it to third on an error with Smith at the plate.
On a 1-0 count, Smith drove the ball deep to center field, and Dennis scored easily to end the suspense and give LaGrange the win.
Earlier on Saturday, LaGrange busted a tight game open with three runs in the third inning on the way to a 5-0 win.
Smith pitched a five-inning shutout, and she held Troup to two hits and no walks while striking out three.
Kaylee Bryant had two hits and an RBI for LaGrange, and Holly Lynn also had two hits.
Madison Dennis had an RBI double, and Malone Aldridge and Jacee Marable each had hits.
LaGrange has a challenging early-season schedule that continues on Wednesday with a home game against Bowdon.
LaGrange visits Harris County on Thursday before opening its Region 2-AAAA schedule next week against Columbus.
After finishing second in Region 5-AAAA last season, LaGrange is looking to take the next step and win a region title this year, and perhaps chase a state championship.
It helps that every starter returns, including the six seniors, Camden Smith (pitcher), Abby Vanhoose (shortstop), Malone Aldridge (outfielder), Madison Dennis (second base), Jacee Marable (first base) and Kirsten Williams (third base).
Also returning are catcher Holly Lynn and outfielders Kaylee Bryant and Mariana Ceja, who all started both games on Saturday.