COLUMBUS – The Columbus Blue Devils were one swing of the bat away from handing the LaGrange Grangers a second discouraging loss in as many days.
Columbus pushed across three runs in the fifth inning on the way to a 4-2 victory at Granger Park on Thursday.
On Friday, those two teams were playing again, this time at Columbus High’s ballpark.
The Blue Devils were trailing by a run, but they had the bases loaded with just one out in the bottom of the seventh inning, and a base hit likely would have given them the victory.
The Grangers, who were on the verge of losing a second straight game to begin their Region 1-AAAAA schedule, needed to pull off something dramatic if they were going to hang on for the win, and they made it happen by turning a game-ending double play that was started by infielder Willis Kemp.
On Thursday, it was the Columbus players celebrating a big victory on LaGrange’s field.
A day later, it was LaGrange’s players getting to do the celebrating, much to the delight of head coach David Smart.
“It is (a lift),” Smart said. “It shows that we can go on the road, and play in tough places and play against good teams and compete, and have a chance. We can definitely take a lot of good from it. Of course we’ve got a lot of things we need to work on from today and yesterday.
The Grangers were close to getting two wins over the Blue Devils, but gaining a split with one of the state’s top teams was not a bad way to start the region slate.
“At the beginning of the week, if you’d said hey you’re going to split, we would have taken that,” Smart said. “We feel like we’re fortunate to get out of there with it. It speaks to the kids’ resiliency.”
LaGrange did a tremendous job of climbing back off the deck following Thursday’s loss.
The Grangers out-hit the Blue Devils in the game, and they had men on base in every inning.
After scoring two runs on five hits in the first inning, though, the Grangers were held scoreless the rest of the way.
Less than 24 hours later, LaGrange and Columbus were going right back at it, and all of the scoring took place in the first three innings.
The Grangers took the lead with three runs in the top of the first inning, but the Blue Devils got a grand slam from Gage Dempsey in the bottom of the inning to take the lead.
The Grangers reclaimed the lead with three runs in the top of the second, and while they didn’t score again, they didn’t need to thanks to some top-notch pitching from Ben Anderson and Howard.
Anderson, after giving up the grand slam, settled down and held the Blue Devils to just one run over his next five innings.
Howard, who threw two scoreless innings in Thursday’s game, was called upon to finish things off on Friday, and he made it happen.
“I thought we played well defensively, and we pitched it good enough,” Smart said.
At the plate, the Grangers finished with eight hits, and they took advantage of some Columbus defensive miscues to score four unearned runs.
In the first inning, David Sweat and Jake Howard reached on errors leading off, Anderson followed with a double, and Jake Farrar and Cole Freeman also had hits in the inning.
In the second inning, Farrar had a clutch two-out, RBI single to cap the three-run rally.
Sweat, Howard and Anderson were the first three hitters in the lineup, and they each scored two runs.
Anderson and Farrar each had two hits and two RBIs, and Sweat, Freeman and Willis Kemp also had hits.
LaGrange is just getting started with its region schedule.
The Grangers have 18 more region games to play, including Tuesday’s game at Shaw.
LaGrange will host Northside on Thursday, and the same two teams will play in Columbus on Friday.
“It’s just going to be who can be the most consistent the most often, and grind it out,” Smart said of the region schedule. “I told the kids today after we were done, these two were exhausting. They really were. Just take care of your body, get some rest, because you’ve got 16 more of them.”
Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports