Lock-down pitching powers Grangers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It was a playoff debut to remember.
Facing Jenkins in the second game of Wednesday’s state-playoff doubleheader, LaGrange High sophomore right-hander Trevor Booton took a perfect game into the fifth inning and tossed a no-hitter in a 9-0 victory that clinched the series and powered LaGrange into the second round.
LaGrange won the first game 5-0, with Matthew Morgan throwing the first six innings before Landon Tucker finished off the shutout with a scoreless seventh inning.
LaGrange will be at West Laurens on Monday for a second-round showdown with a berth in the final eight on the line.
The Grangers (20-8), who finished second in Region 2-AAAA to earn their playoff spot, have made it this far thanks in large part to their excellence on the pitcher’s mound.
That was on full display against an overmatched Jenkins squad.
After Morgan and Tucker shut Jenkins down in the first game, Booton delivered a masterpiece in the decisive second game.
Booton overpowered the Jenkins hitters and struck out 17 of the 22 batters he faced, and the only blemishes on another otherwise perfect effort were two walks.
“That’s probably the best I’ve felt all year. I felt great,” Booton said. “There’s nothing better than postseason baseball.”
As for tossing a no-hitter in his first playoff game, Booton said “it’s an amazing feeling, and I’ll go back out Monday and try again.”
Matthew Morgan, who played shortstop in the second game, has watched Booton work all season, and he knows what to expect.
“We know he’s going to attack the zone, and that’s really all we ask out of our pitchers is throw strikes, and give us a chance,” Morgan said. “Tonight, the defense didn’t have to work that hard.”
Morgan delivered a stellar performance of his own in the first game.
Morgan, a senior right-hander, limited Jenkins to three hits in six innings, and he had 10 strikeouts.
Morgan likely would have been a game one starter in the playoffs a year ago, but the season was canceled because of COVID-19.
Morgan got his chance on Wednesday, and he made the most of it.
“I’ve never done that before in my career (started a playoff game), and it was awesome to play here,” Morgan said.
Morgan, who is also one of LaGrange’s top hitters, has committed to the University of West Georgia, and he’ll soon make it official by signing his letter of intent.
“I want to see how far this goes, and I’m excited for that next year,” Morgan said.
Head coach Donnie Branch, who began giving Morgan pitching lessons when he was 12-years-old, is proud of the progress his ace has made.
“To see how he’s developed, and gotten stronger, and now he gets to go to a really good school, it really fires me up,” Branch said.
While the pitching was superb, the Grangers got it done offensively as well, combining for 16 hits in the two games, and Turner Cook showed off his power with a home run in the second game.
It was a complete performance by a team that has excelled this season, despite having only a handful of players who came into the season with significant varsity playing experience.
“I’m proud of them,” Branch said. “We’ve got plenty of issues, but we kind of play through them, and we pitch through them.”
In game two, the Grangers took control with five runs in the top of the second inning to take a 5-0 lead.
Ty Medders led off with a walk, and Cook followed with a two-run home run to put the Grangers on the board.
Later in the inning, Colton Esposito knocked in a run with a groundout, and Morgan had an RBI triple to extend the lead to 4-0.
Morgan scored on a wild pitch to cap the five-run rally.
LaGrange took advantage of some wildness by the Jenkins pitchers to pad its lead with two runs in the fourth inning.
There were five walks in the inning, including back-to-back free passes to Medders and Cook with the bases loaded to drive in runs.
The Grangers added a single run in the sixth inning, with Will Alford scoring when Cook reached on an infield error.
LaGrange capped the scoring in the seventh inning.
Matthew Lamb was hit by a pitch, Kevin Neighbors singled, and Preston Pressley came through with an RBI single to put the Grangers on top 9-0.
Cook finished with two hits, and Morgan, Pressley, Zack Thompson, Tucker and Kevin Neighbors each had one hit.
In the first game, the Grangers scored two runs in the first and third innings, and a single run in the bottom of the sixth.
It was an unusual game, with LaGrange scoring all of its five runs on passed balls or wild pitches.
Ty Medders had two hits including a triple while also reaching on a walk, Tucker had two hits with a walk, and Morgan had two hits from the leadoff position.
Seth Stargell, Alford and Esposito each had one hit, and Cook and Thompson walked.