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LaGrange softball team chasing state title

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

The journey began with more than 30 softball teams hopeful of getting to Columbus for the state finals.

Most of those teams fell by the wayside, but the LaGrange Lady Grangers are one of the fortunate few to make it to Columbus with an opportunity to win a state championship.

Four teams have survived to this point, and they will get together on Friday and Saturday at the South Commons Softball Complex to determine a Class AAAA state champion.

LaGrange is joined in the double-elimination state finals by Central-Carroll, West Laurens, and defending state-champion Heritage Catoosa.

LaGrange and Central-Carroll will face off at 3:30 p.m., while West Laurens and Heritage will play at the same time.

At 7 p.m., the winners of the two early games will play, while the losers will face off in an elimination game.

The tournament continues on Saturday at 1 p.m. with another elimination game, and the final two teams will meet at 3 p.m. If needed, a winner-take-all game would be played at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

LaGrange (23-9) brings a veteran team to Columbus that includes six seniors who have been a part of the program since they were freshmen, and pitcher Camden Smith, shortstop Abby Vanhoose, second baseman Madison Dennis, first baseman Jacee Marable and center fielder Malone Aldridge have been starting since they were freshmen.

The other senior, third baseman Kirsten Williams, moved into the starting lineup when she was a junior.

The remaining members of the starting lineup are outfielders Kaylee Bryant and Mariana Ceja and catcher Holly Lynn, and Mary James Stogner has been a key player off the bench.

Lynn, a junior, has caught every inning of every game this season, and that’s no small feat considering softball season begins when the summer heat is at its most severe.

Lynn has persevered and had an exceptional season while helping LaGrange become one of the last four teams standing in the state playoffs.

While Lynn has been one of LaGrange’s top offensive players, she has also provided an invaluable defensive presence at catcher, and she has developed valuable chemistry with pitcher Camden Smith.

Gabby Heath, LaGrange’s head coach, said that chemistry has come about because of all the time the two spend together.

“Holly went with her to her pitching lessons, and even when they’re doing bullpen, they talk about when they go to pitching lessons, this is what they can correct,” Heath said. “It creates that ownership with both of them of holding each other accountable. It’s nice.”

Lynn also helps Smith with her ability to frame pitches.

“That’s Camden’s strength is that curveball, so she does a good job of keeping it from going out of the zone,” Heath said. “That saves a lot of strikes for her.”

Smith, who pitched two complete games in the quarterfinal sweep of Cedartown, is grateful to have Lynn behind the plate.

Following a 4-3 win over Cedartown to clinch the series win over Cedartown, Smith talked about her appreciation of Lynn, who ended the game by catching a pop-up in foul territory.

“She has my back a lot, through almost anything that we do, and I trust her with my life basically, and seeing her make that out just brought me pure joy,” Smith said.

Smith has also done her part to help LaGrange reach this point.

Smith, who has been LaGrange’s primary pitcher since she was a freshman, has pitched almost every inning this season, and she has been brilliant.

The other seniors have also had standout seasons and played key roles in the win over Cedartown, and now those players are perhaps on the verge of completing their high-school careers in the ultimate fashion, with a championship.

Whatever happens, the players will do it together.

“We love each other, and I think the chemistry we have is unbreakable,” Smith said.