LAGRANGE – It wasn’t the ending they were hoping for, but it was still a fantastic season for the Troup Tigers.
Troup’s baseball team finished with a 21-7 record, and it captured the program’s first region championship since 1995 before falling to Madison County in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
For a team with state-championship aspirations, losing that early in the playoffs was a bitter bill to swallow, but head coach Craig Garner said it did nothing to take away from what the players accomplished, and he said it was a special team.
“This was a great group,” Garner said. “It was a great group of young men, a great senior class. Regardless of how far we went, it was probably the best group I’ve ever coached. They did a lot of great things. I was proud of them.”
The success enjoyed by the baseball team was one of the highlights for Troup High’s sports teams during the 2015-2016 school year.
Here’s a look back:
REGION CHAMPS AT LAST: One year after coming up just short in its quest to win a region title, Troup’s baseball team left no doubt who the best team was this season.
The Tigers played 15 Region 5-AAAA games last season, and they won 14 of them, and they closed the regular season with a three-game sweep of the Whitewater Wildcats, who won the region title a year ago.
Garner said it was a team filled with talented and unselfish players whose primary objective was to do what was best for the team.
“They’re a good group, and they’re good teammates,” Garner said. “They pull for one another. I felt like there may have been a little dissension early in the season. We were worried about that. But it hasn’t come to fruition. They’ve banded together, they pull for one another.”
Garner said the players competed hard against each other in practice, but when game day rolled around, it was all for one, and one for all.
“They come out here and battle each other every day for playing time,” Garner said. “And that’s what you want. You want them to come out here and have healthy, heated competition. When it gets game time, you better band together and pull together, or nobody’s going to be successful.”
After the season, Troup dominated the all-region team.
Bo Halcomb was the region’s player of the year, and Winston Turner, Miles Cameron, Payton Upchurch, Ryan Bliss, Colby Williams, Brandon Gay, Ken Truitt and Colby Darda also made the all-region team.
SOARING AT STATE:The Troup High cheerleaders capped a special season by earning a spot on the podium at the state competition in Columbus.
Troup’s strong performance in the state finals was enough to secure a sixth-place finish in Class AAAA, a phenomenal result for a program that has enjoyed tremendous success in recent years.
“We couldn’t be any prouder of this group of kids,” Troup coach Amelia Key said. “They’re dedicated, they’ve worked hard, they’re talented. To top it off, we only have one senior. They’re going to come back in ready to go for the title next year. They’re already talking about it today. They’re excited, and have a lot to look forward to.”
Throughout the season, Troup showed it could compete with the state’s best teams.
During the regular season, Troup had some impressive showings, including a first-place performance at the Whitewater Invitational.
Then at the Region 5-AAAA competition, Troup had a second-place showing.
While the region champions earned a bye into the state finals, the other teams competed in the state sectional for the right to advance.
Needing to finish in the top eight in the sectional to make it through to the state finals, Troup was sixth, and it followed that up with the stellar effort in the finals in Columbus.
“In that arena and that setting, and with that many freshmen and sophomores, it’s a little nerve-wracking,” Key said. “And they blocked that all out of their system and came in and just performed, and wowed everybody and did a great job.”
Key said it was an eye-opening experience for the girls to realize they were right there with the best teams in the state.
“They got their names called, and they were down there with the top teams in the state,” Key said. “It finally hit them, that they’re considered one of those teams now. We told our team all year, do your job. We told them if they did their job, they would end up on the floor as one of the finalists, and they did.”
EMBRACING THE TRADITION: The Troup High wrestling program was once the best in the state.
While the Tigers aren’t back to that point yet, they’re moving in that direction.
Troup enjoyed a banner 2015-2016 season that ended with three of its wrestlers earning a state medal.
Senior Hudson Newton made it all the way to the state-championship match at 285 pounds before finishing second, Chase Seals placed third at 120 pounds, and Trevor Upchurch was sixth at 113 pounds.
Troup sent 13 wrestlers to the state sectional, and eight of them made it to the state finals.
While it was no doubt a successful season for the Tigers, wrestler Scott Hicks said the team is striving for more.
“We’re proud of where we are, but then again, there’s a sense of aspiring for greatness,” Hicks said. “Everybody in this room knows that sure we’re doing good, sure we’re better than we were two years ago, but there’s a point we want to reach, and we’re not even close to that.”
One of the highlights of the season for Troup came at the county championship when it captured a dramatic win over LaGrange.
Troup trailed 27-9 at one point, but it rallied for the 36-33 win.
It was tied going into the final match, and Brantly Robinson won by decision to give Troup the decisive points.
In the second-to-last match, Chase Seals got a huge win over former teammate Dakota Wilson that pulled the Tigers even.
“You always talk about it, you always tell them, to battle through adversity,” Troup head coach Craig Garner said. “The real world, real life, it’s always about adversity. We were down at one point 27-9, and we stayed true to our game plan.”
One of the most critical matches was at 285 pounds, with Newton and LaGrange’s Emmanuel Mann locking horns.
In a thriller, it was Newton getting the win in overtime to help spark the rally.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Newton said. “I went in, and I knew what I had to do. I knew he weighed a good bit more than I weighed. I knew I’d have to stall him out, and capitalize on where he was vulnerable.”
With time winding down in overtime, Newton saw his chance, and he pounced.
“I looked up, and his arms were dangling, and I thought I would capitalize with two seconds left,” Newton said. “I did.”
BACK AT STATE: For the first time since the 2011-2012 season when they made it to the state quarterfinals, the Troup Lady Tigers qualified for the state basketball tournament.
Troup hung tough with North Oconee in the first round at state before falling 64-50.
“The fourth quarter, we were within five, and we had to foul them,” Troup head coach Carla Thornton said. “They made every single free throw to pull away. But it was a good game.”
It was a breakthrough season for the Lady Tigers.
“I’m very proud of the girls,” Thornton said. “We competed every single game this year, except for the one Carrollton game where they blew us out. The girls are already saying they’ll be really successful next year.”
Troup will return all but one player next season, so the future looks bright.
The Troup Tigers didn’t make it to the state tournament, but they still made major strides last season.
While the Tigers only went 7-15, they were in nearly every game, and they did it with a young roster that included a handful of freshmen and sophomores who saw major playing time.
When the season ended in the region tournament, head coach Paul Brewer told the players it was up to them how good the team would be moving forward.
“We told the returning starters, if you’re serious about this, go to work,” Brewer said. “This has got to be something you want to do. We should have to make you put the ball down.”
SOFTBALL SUCCESS: Troup’s softball team got a taste of playoff success last season when it beat Woodward Academy in the Region 5-AAAA tournament to finish third.
Troup advanced to the state playoffs for the second straight season, and it fell to North Hall in the first round.
Blair Shimandle, Troup’s head coach last season, said the players “have some fire in them.”
“We have some fighters this year,” she added. “That’s what I like, that’s what makes it fun. They’re scrappy, and they play to win. In the past, we’ve kind of played not to lose, and now it’s like our girls are playing to win. That’s really the biggest difference this year.”
Among the players who helped lead the way were the seniors, Hanna Lane, Amber Arnold, Libby Wheeler, Katie White and Olivia Jones.
After the season, Shimandle stepped down as Troup’s head coach, and former assistant coach Mason Brackett has taken over that position.
TEEING IT UP: Troup’s girls’ golf team finished second in the Region 5-AAAA tournament, and Abby Taylor ended up qualifying for the state tournament.
Taylor posted a score of 91 at the region tournament, and she had a 45 on the front nine and a 46 on the back nine.
Libby Wheeler, a senior who like Taylor excelled on the softball field, was next with a 111, and Caroline Blanks shot a 131.
“They did much better than we were expecting,” Yeargin said. “We finished second, and we got to bring home a piece of hardware.”
Troup’s boys’ golf team finished fourth in the region tournament that was held at Sunset Hills Country Club in Carrollton.
Cameron Byers led the Tigers with an 80, and he qualified for the state sectional as an individual.
Jack David Pleasants was next for Troup with an 86, and James Figiel (97) and Chase Hewitt (107) rounded out the scoring for Troup.
HANGING TOUGH: It was a positive ending to a difficult season.
The Troup Tigers lost their first nine games last football season, but in their final game, they blanked the Whitewater Wildcats 28-0.
“Kudos to our players who played hard all year long, and never wavered,” first-year head coach Tanner Glisson said.
When the final game had been played, Glisson said he was looking forward to having a full offseason with his team for the first time.
“We’re excited,” Glisson said. “We knew it was going to be a tough first year, the hand we were dealt when we came in the door. Now, there’s no more excuses going forward. Now you’ve got a full offseason. You’ve been around the kids for awhile now so you know what buttons to push.”
As for the seniors, Glisson was immensely proud of the effort they gave all season.
“All those guys going out the door, they could have packed this thing in weeks and weeks and weeks ago. And they kept playing, kept fighthing,” Glisson said. “I’m proud that we got that win, but I’m just as proud that looking back in the Sandy Creek and the Woodward games, the effort was the same. It was the same then as it is now.”
VOLLEYING FOR A GOOD CAUSE: It was a special night for the Troup volleyball team.
The Troup High volleyball team hosted its annual “Dig Pink” event last fall, with the teams from Starr’s Mill and The Heritage School also participating.
The Volley for the Cure as it was called was designed to not only raise money to combat cancer, but to honor and recognize those who have had the disease.
A number of cancer survivors were honored during the evening.
“It was a great night,” said Troup volleyball coach Jodi Dowden, herself a cancer survivor. “The other teams were amazed that we were able to put that together.”
It was a festive atmosphere, thanks in large part to the large gathering of athletes from other teams at Troup who helped fill the bleachers in the gym.
Troup’s softball team was supposed to play a game against Callaway that same day, but the game was rained out, so the players came out to cheer their classmates on in a show of school unity.
“They got rained out, so they came and supported us,” Dowden said. “It was awesome to have that kind of support for so many people in the community. We’re thankful for that.”
After the first match, Troup’s drum line turned the decibel level in the gym way up as it performed, and at the start of the evening’s festivities, Troup’s student choir delivered a pitch-perfect version of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports