One year after winning three games at state to make it to the semifinals, the Lady Grangers are one-and-done this season after falling to the visiting Chestatee Lady War Eagles 36-29 Friday night in the opening round of the Class AAA state tournament.
The Lady Grangers (21-3) came into the game looking like a team that could compete for a state title fresh off a Region 6-AAA championship, but they met their match in a Chestatee squad that did a stellar job of keeping the game at a deliberate pace.
LaGrange wanted to speed things up and make it a fast-paced game, but Chestatee kept that from happening.
“The winner of the game was going to be who controlled the tempo, and we didn’t control the tempo,” LaGrange coach Jan Jones said.
Chestatee coach Webster Daniel knew his team couldn’t keep pace with LaGrange in a run-and-gun style game, so his strategy was to keep things slower and make it a lower scoring game.
His players carried out the game plan perfectly.
“We knew they were much faster than us,” Webster said. “We just tried to dribble as little as possible, because we knew if we dribbled too much they’d steal the basketball from us.”
It also helped to have Peyton Robinson, a 6-foot-2 senior, on the floor.
Robinson scored 20 points, and she was 6-for-6 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter when she scored 12 points.
“She was the player of the year in our region. She came out here tonight and showed wy,” Daniel said.
The Lady Grangers were within one with 1:17 left when KaBrenna Smith scored, but Chestatee finished the game on a 6-0 run thanks to six straight free throws from Robinson.
“When adversity hit, we didn’t answer back like we were supposed to,” Jones said.
Neither team did much of anything offensive early, with Chestatee managing to hold a two-point lead after the first quarter despite scoring just four points.
With Smith scoring six points in the second period, LaGrange scored nine points, and that was enough for an 11-10 lead at the break.
In the third period, the Lady Grangers trailed by as many as three points, but they rallied to build a 22-20 lead, and Chestatee closed the quarter with a basket to tie it at 22-22.
The Lady War Eagles built a four-point lead, their biggest of the game, three minutes into the final quarter, but Steara Mitchell knocked down a 3-pointer with 4:40 remaining to get the Grangers within one.
After a Robinson basket, Smith answered to again get LaGrange within a point, with plenty of time remaining.
After a Chestatee player missed a couple of free throws, the Lady Grangers got the ball back, but they were unable to score, and Robinson made two free throws with 27 seconds left to extend the lead to three.
After LaGrange misfired again, Robinson connected on two more free throws with 14 seconds remaining, and the lead was five.
Again the Lady Grangers were unable to score, and Robinson’s two free throws with five seconds left capped the scoring.
Mitchell made three 3-pointers and scored 11 points to lead LaGrange, and Smith added 10 points.
Rachel Kelly scored 10 points for Chestatee.
It was a tough way to end a spectacular season for the Lady Grangers, but they’ll likely be back at state next year despite the loss of two valuable seniors, Terryuana Godwin and Arneshia Williams.
Jones hopes the loss will be a learning tool for the returning players.
“You can tell (the Lady War Eagles) they work on everything all the time, all year long,” Jones said. “That’s what we’ve got to have is to be a little more fundamental in games like that, have a little bit more confidence from the get-go.”