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Union Grove baseball keeps good times rolling

Photo by Brian Paglia / Union Grove baseball lost a huge class of seniors, but the Wolverines just reloaded to keep pace in one of the toughest baseball regions in the state.

Photo by Brian Paglia / Union Grove baseball lost a huge class of seniors, but the Wolverines just reloaded to keep pace in one of the toughest baseball regions in the state.

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Photo by Brian Paglia / Union Grove coach Allen Franklin says senior Ryan Sapp is the “backbone” of the Wolverines.

McDONOUGH — There have been seasons similar to 2013 for Union Grove baseball coach Allen Franklin before, where virtually an entire roster is turned over from one year to the next while expectations remain the same.

But even this has been unique for the Wolverines — to replace 10 seniors and an entire pitching staff and yet seemingly not skip a beat.

Union Grove (10-5, 8-3 Region 4-AAAAA) enters tonight’s game at home against Creekside just a game back from Starr’s Mill, a team it defeated 5-3 last week, for first place in arguably one of the strongest baseball regions in the state.

“You sit back and look at it — we’ve got a pretty good thing in place,” Franklin said. “I think we’ve got a pretty good thing going.”

Indeed, though the Wolverines missed the state tournament last year for the second straight season, they were in contention for a region championship, won 18 games and spent the majority of the season ranked.

Behind a quartet of college-bound pitchers in Matt Anderson (Louisburg), Travis Bergen (Kennesaw State), Justin Flores (Middle Georgia) and Austin Smith (Gwinnett College), Union Grove never lost consecutive games.

Now there’s a new quartet — Andy Callocchio, Kyle Spinks, Ryan Sapp and Cameron Wiggins. Only Spinks saw any significant time on the mound last season on the varsity level.

Their approach and experience on the mound has been a work in progress.

“Last year’s group, they had more of a bulldog mentality,” Franklin said. “Give me the ball and I’m going to go all seven. This year’s group is still trying to find their way.

“They’re not as good as working through adversity. But it’ll come.”

They’ve already shown signs. Union Grove has strong victories against region contenders Whitewater (7-6), Ola (5-1) and Starr’s Mill, a game in which the Wolverines trailed 3-0 only to storm back.

And, naturally, Ryan Sapp was at the center of the comeback with five shutout innings of relief pitching and a clutch 3-run double to tie the game. The only returning starter from a year ago, Sapp pitches, plays first base and hits lead-off. The senior has signed with Andrew College.

“He knew he was going to have to step up and be the leader of the team on and off the field,” Franklin said. “He’s embraced the role. He’s always been a great baseball player, but he matured a lot going into last year.”

That’s been the formula that’s kept Union Grove baseball competitive since the school opened in 2000. The Wolverines develop success at all levels of the program. Their ninth grade and junior varsity teams aren’t accustommed to losing.

That’s how Union Grove was able to run a streak of eight consecutive playoff appearances at one point, how it’s been able to plug in junior infielder Mason McClellon, sophomore outfielders Josh Peters and Shane Tucker, senior second baseman Jake Pope and junior second baseman Andy Burnett into a starting role and remain competitive even in a region as competitive as 4-AAAAA.

“We’re right there with everybody,” Franklin said.