The Foundation: Three members of the class of ’22 helped lay the groundwork for LaGrange’s championship run in 2023

Published 7:30 am Friday, May 19, 2023

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The foundation is firm.

Three members of the class of ‘22 helped put a foundation in place for the LaGrange baseball team to make another historic run to the state championship series in 2023. Three LaGrange graduates Turner Cook, Colton Esposito and Zack Thompson brought the team the doorstep of a state championship a season ago when they were leaders for the Grangers team that fell to North Oconee in the state championship in 2022, and now they are looking forward to seeing the Grangers take care of business this year.

“They didn’t stay complacent and got so much better,” Cook said. “They have been going crazy in the weight room and really going after it in practice.” 

All three of these former Grangers were integral starters on the 2022 state runner-ups. To watch the players succeed them at their positions and keep the standards high has been special for these three to watch.

“They knew last year that they were going to have somebody step up and fill that spot,” Esposito said. “I feel like Rob has done the absolute best he could do. He was put in a tough position because he didn’t play any third base last year.”

Esposito was a tough player to replace as he hit .423 with an on base percentage of .500 during the regular season in 2022. He also tacked on a home run and 17 RBIs to his stat line to help him earn region 2-4A player of the year, but Skinner has been up to the task so far as Esposito’s replacement on the corner of the infield. 

“Them getting all that experience shows them how far they can go if they put everything they have into it,” Esposito said. 

Cook, Esposito and Thompson were not easy to replace. All three received an offer to play college baseball and each took the opportunity to do so. Even now that they are playing college ball, they cannot help but reminisce about those days at The Branch.

“When I walked out at last year’s semifinals game three I couldn’t believe it,” Cook said. “It felt like the whole city of LaGrange was there. I could just feel it was going to be a great game.”

Thompson was the heartbeat of last year’s Granger team, according to head coach Donnie Branch. He was more than just a leader. As the team’s catcher, he had a monumental impact on the pitchers a season ago. The loss of Thompson could have been crippling but senior transfer Cole Garner has stepped up in a big way. While Thompson never suited up in Granger white and blue with Garner, he knew the transfer had what it would take to be a superb replacement for himself.

“Cole has done a really, really good job,” Thompson said. “I went to the games in the semis, and he has really stepped into a leadership role for them. He has been a beast behind the plate and swinging the bat really well this year which has been fun to see.”

Thompson hit .375 with 31 RBIs in his senior season. His on-base percentage of .499 might have been his most impressive stat from his final season as a Granger. Thompson also provided outstanding defense behind the plate and Garner has been more than up to the task this season. 

Thompson knew this year’s team had all the tools to be successful. He remembers how hard coach Donnie Branch pushed their 2022 team and how that would fuel the 2023 team even more.

“We practice so hard in high school,” Thompson said. “In batting practice last year we were diving for every ball. We are running right out of the box. Coach Branch coached us hard and I’m now realizing how beneficial that was to me as a player to help me be where I am now.”

Esposito and Branch did not always have the most positive relationship as they butted heads over the years. This all changed when Branch and Esposito talked about his need to mature after his junior year. Esposito came back his senior year as a real leader for the team.

“He showed me that not everything would be given to me, and I really had to earn it,” Esposito said. 

All three former Grangers have seen this year’s team in person and came away impressed with both their replacements and the team as a whole. 

Now, all three are planning to head up to Coolray Field in Gwinnett on Friday to see this version of the Grangers take on North Oconee in the state championship series.

“I’m planning on being there on Friday to see LaGrange win it,” Cook said.