Grangers roll over Northgate for coach Donnie Branch’s 600th career win

Published 10:47 pm Tuesday, February 21, 2023

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Lucky number 600.

With LaGrange’s 12-5 win over Northgate on Tuesday, LaGrange head coach became just the 13th Georgia high school baseball coach to ever hit 600 wins according to Georgia Dugout Club.

“It feels really good and the first thing I thought of was all the guys who coached with me over the years,” Branch said. “I had a completely different staff for about 400 of those wins and now I have a new staff. I can’t help but think about all the different players that have come. I make out the lineup, but we have had some great players and coaches over the years.”

In a legacy defined by big moments, this was just another jewel in the crown for Branch, who is already in the Georgia Dugout Club Hall of Fame. His ability to adapt and evolve over the years is one of the main reasons he has had such success manning the helm at LaGrange High.

“The standard stays the same,” Branch said. “Winning is expected. That means we have averaged over 20 wins for over 30 years. That’s pretty good (laughs).”

It was not quite as comfortable as Branch would have wanted for his 600th win, but his team found the right formula on the evening to get the job done.

The Grangers got the action started early with newcomer Cole Garner driving in two runs in the bottom of the first inning before Robbie Parker drove one in on a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0 after one inning played. Garner — a senior transfer from Northside — has made a big impact in his first year as a Granger. He has given them quality defense and has shown his stuff on offense, going 2-for-3 with three RBIs and three runs scored in the game.

Northgate cut into the Granger lead with a run in the top of the second inning, but LaGrange struck right back in the bottom of the inning. 

The Grangers plated four runs in the inning to blow the game open. Seth Stargell got the action started with an RBI single, and he was outstanding all night at the plate, going 3-for-3 with three runs scored, three RBIs, four stolen bases and two walks.

The score stayed locked at 7-3 until the fourth inning when Cooper Stephens lifted everybody in Granger Park off their seats with a mammoth two-run homer over the center field wall. One pitch later, Parker blasted a moon shot to the same position in center field but saw it cannon back off the wall just a few inches short of a home run.  

The Vikings looked like they might get back in the game when they scored four runs in the top of the fifth inning to cut the Granger lead to five runs. They could have had more, but the Vikings stranded three runners on to end the top of the inning. 

“I was really enjoying how we were playing up in the fourth inning, and then all of a sudden we went into snooze mode,” Branch said. “I was a little disappointed, and I think we let off the gas.”

The Grangers grabbed a couple of insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth inning when Preston Pressley hit a two-RBI single. It was the only hit Pressley got in the game, but he showed a good eye at the plate by taking three walks as well to reach base safely all four times he went in the batter’s box.

Trevor Booton got the start on the mound and brought the heat, striking out five batters in his four and a third innings on the mound. He had only one earned run to his name as the defense let him down time and again, committing five errors in the game.

Parker came in for the final two and two-thirds innings and slammed the door on any chance of a Northgate comeback, fanning five batters and not allowing a single hit. 

Trey Cook made his debut as the DH after being limited to pitching duties only in the opening games and went 2-for-3 with a run scored. 

After dropping its season opener to Northside, LaGrange has rattled off four wins in a row to improve to 4-1 on the season. The Grangers will be back in action on Saturday against a tough Columbus team at Granger Parker as Branch will search for win no. 601.

“It’s been a lot of fun to reload it and try and go get some more,” Branch said.