Despite having several players on the mend, the Central Red Devils showed up in a big way at the three-day LaGrange Invitational Baseball Tournament.
Central posted a 3-1 record in the LaGrange Invitational en route to a second-place finish. The Red Devils made short work of Locust Grove, Caledonia and Evangel Christian Academy before falling to Decatur 3-2 in the championship game.
Central outscored its first three opponents 31-6 before finding the matchup with Decatur to be a much tougher challenge.
In the loss to the Red Raiders, the Red Devils threatened to walk away with the game late. Slade Gorman walked to open the seventh inning before Evan Baber singled to center field, putting Central runners on first and second with no outs.
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From there, however, a flyout, strikeout and groundout ended the game.
“We had a couple of chances to win that one,” Central head coach Bobby Howard said. “Late, we got our first two guys on and didn’t score them.”
Baber was one of Central’s standout players from the tournament both on the mound and at the plate. He pitched for the entirety of the tournament-opening 6-0 win over Locust Grove, throwing seven innings with one hit allowed and seven strikeouts. From the batter’s box, Baber was hard to stop, hitting .500 in the four games and registering five RBIs.
Baber, Gorman and Tanner Belcher were named to the All-Tournament team.
“He’s done really well,” Howard said of Baber. “We’re pleased with him since he didn’t really throw a lot last year.”
Howard pointed to Baber as a player the Red Devils have needed in the early goings of 2017. With injury issues hampering some of Central’s starters, the team had to find pitchers within its roster to pick up the slack.
The Red Devils’ showing at the tournament made it apparent it has done just that.
“The other guys have really stepped up,” Howard said. “Coach (A.J.) Kehoe has done a great job of getting our staff ready to play and pitch.”
Howard said this tournament as well as Central’s upcoming one in Jacksonville, Fla., provide valuable tests. With everyone still getting into the swing of the new season, playing high-caliber talent early can reveal to a team what is working and what needs to be addressed.
That’s no different with the Red Devils.
Howard complimented the team’s pitching over the four games as well as the the top four hitters in the batting order. Those hitters, which were the three All-Tournament players plus Dayton Edmonds, delivered the majority of the Red Devils’ offense.
Howard was pleased with their showing but admitted they have to get more production from the batters following Edmonds in the lineup.
“You can’t win with just your (first) four guys,” Howard said. “We’ve got to have some more situational hitters throughout the lineup.”
Edmonds was one of Central’s players recovering from injury, and his showing represents where the Red Devils stand in the young season. Players are still getting their feet under them, while a few already have the challenge of overcoming aches and strains. Some on the roster, such as Edmonds, are showing progress in both areas.
Even still, Howard expects to see much more as the team moves forward.
“We got better, but we’ve still got a long ways to go,” Howard said.
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports