Lady Grangers headed to semifinals
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
As the ball settled into catcher Holly Lynn’s glove, the realization hit.
The LaGrange Lady Grangers, after a hard-earned victory over a strong Cedartown ballclub, were headed to the final four of the state softball playoffs.
Cedartown had the winning run at the plate in the seventh inning of the second game of the quarterfinal playoff series, and LaGrange pitcher Camden Smith trusted her stuff and threw a strike.
Cedartown’s Alexas Poole, the number three hitter in the lineup, popped the pitch up behind the plate, and Lynn made the sure-handed catch, giving LaGrange a 4-3 victory and a sweep of the best-of-three series.
LaGrange, which beat Cedartown 5-4 in the first game, advances to the Class AAAA state semifinals, and it will play Central-Carroll on Friday in Columbus.
Malone Aldridge watched the final play from her position in center field, and she was with her teammates and celebrating about the time the ball was settling into Lynn’s glove.
“I was just filled with joy,” Aldridge said. “I just ran in immediately and hugged the first person I saw. It was so just crazy.”
Aldridge treasured the moment in part because of who she got to share it with.
“They’re my best friends,” Aldridge said. “It’s so fun to experience this with them.”
Kaylee Bryant, who scored the winning run in the first game and had an RBI single in the second game, is also grateful to be on a team filled with players who get along so well.
“If I was on a team I wasn’t as close with, I don’t think it would be as enjoyable, but I consider them like my family,” Bryant said.
That family is now on the doorstep of winning a state championship, much to the delight of the team’s head coach, Gabby Heath.
“I’m very proud,” Heath said. “Until you do something, you don’t know if you can, but you can see the confidence growing.”
Now that LaGrange has made it to Columbus for the semifinals, Heath’s attitude is why not us?
“We’re there, so we might as well win it,” Heath said.
Cedartown, which had won four consecutive playoff games to get to the quarterfinals, made LaGrange work for it.
In the first game, Cedartown rallied for three runs in the sixth inning to tie it, but LaGrange won it in the bottom of the seventh when Bryant scored on an error after stealing second.
The second game was also tight, with LaGrange making a 4-1 lead it built after four innings stand up, with Smith doing some outstanding work on the mound.
“We knew we had to take advantage of the run opportunities that they gave us,” Heath said. “In the film, they didn’t move fast like that, so we just kept running. We got out several times, but we just kept running.”
It also helped that LaGrange had Smith, who has had an outstanding senior season, on the mound.
Smith faced down a Cedartown lineup that had been putting up massive numbers and got the job done.
“She didn’t get some strike calls,” Heath said. “I just told her to just keep throwing it, and she did.”
LAGRANGE 5, CEDARTOWN 4
Some aggressive base-running paid massive dividends for LaGrange in a game one victory over Cedartown.
In a tie game, Kaylee Bryant led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a base hit.
With Malone Aldridge at the plate, Bryant took off for second on a stolen-base attempt, and when the throw went into the outfield, she kept on running, and she didn’t stop until she came home with the winning run.
“I was definitely not thinking I was going to score,” Bryant said. “I knew I had third easy, but I didn’t see how deep in the outfield the ball went.”
Bryant was waved home, and she scored easily as LaGrange secured the 5-4 victory to take the upper-hand in the series.
Cedartown scored three runs in the sixth inning to wipe out a 4-1 deficit, but LaGrange remained poised and pulled off the win.
“We knew we were going to have to be scrappy, and we knew that as long as we stick together, even when they do have a three-run inning, we know we’re going to be OK, we know we’re going to respond,” Heath said.
After Cedartown took the lead on a Taylor Westmoreland home run in the top of the second inning, LaGrange answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning.
Jacee Marable led off with a base hit, and Abby Vanhoose reached on an error, putting runners on second and third with no outs.
Holly Lynn and Camden Smith then came through with back-to-back RBI sacrifice bunts, giving LaGrange a 2-1 lead.
LaGrange extended its lead to 3-1 on a Lynn home run in the fourth inning, with the ball slamming off the scoreboard beyond the left-field fence.
LaGrange added another run in the fifth inning.
Mariana Ceja got things started with a base hit, and Malone Aldridge legged out an infield single with two outs.
Kirsten Williams followed with an infield single of her own, bringing Ceja home to make it a 4-1 game.
Cedartown rallied for three runs in the sixth inning to tie it, but Smith got out of trouble without any more runs scoring.
Madison Dennis, the second baseman, made a sensational play for the third out of the sixth inning.
Dennis dove to her left on a hard-hit grounder, and she hopped up and threw a strike to first for the third out.
Smith set Cedartown in order in the top of the seventh, and LaGrange won it in the bottom of the inning.
Aldridge had two hits for LaGrange, Lynn had a home run and two RBIs, Williams had a hit and an RBI, Smith had an RBI, and Marable and Vanhoose each had one hit.
Smith gave up 11 hits, but with some help from her infield defense, she limited the damage.
Vanhoose (shortstop) and Williams (third base) were flawless on the left side of the infield, and Dennis got it done at second base.
LAGRANGE 4, CEDARTOWN 3
LaGrange went on top with a run in the third inning, and it made that lead stand up on the way to the series-clinching win.
For the second straight game, LaGrange senior pitcher Camden Smith did some stellar work against a powerful Cedartown lineup.
Smith held Cedartown to six hits and three runs, and she finished the game with two scoreless innings while retiring seven of the final eight batters she faced.
Leadoff hitter Malone Aldridge had two of her team’s hits, and Jacee Marable and Kaylee Bryant each had two hits, and Bryant had an RBI.
Mariana Ceja had a double and an RBI, and Kirsten Williams, Madison Dennis and Abby Vanhoose each had a hit.
The Lady Grangers, the visiting team on the scoreboard for the second game, grabbed the lead with a run in the top of the first inning, and they did it with aggressive base-running.
Dennis walked with two outs, and after rounding first she kept on running and made it safely to second base.
Marable followed with an infield single, and Dennis scored all the way from second, and LaGrange led 1-0.
After Cedartown tied it in the bottom of the first, LaGrange went back on top with a run in the third inning.
Aldridge got things started with an infield single, and Williams followed with a hard-hit single to center field.
Aldridge later scored on a wild pitch, and LaGrange led 2-1.
LaGrange added what turned out to be two critical insurance runs in the fourth inning.
Holly Lynn was hit by a pitch with one out, and Smith followed with a walk to put runners on first and second.
Ceja followed with an RBI double with the ball sailing over the right fielder’s head, and Bryant added a run-scoring single, and LaGrange led 4-1.
Cedartown got within one with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth, but Smith got a key strikeout to end the inning, with LaGrange still ahead, albeit by just one run.
Camden had a perfect sixth inning, and she retired the first two batters in the seventh before giving up a two-out single, but she got the final out on a pop-up, and the celebration was on