Hoops time arrives for Grangers
LAGRANGE – With a new man sitting in the lead chair, the LaGrange Grangers took care of business on Thursday in a preseason game against Central-Carroll.
The Grangers exploded for 48 points in the first half, and they rolled to a 71-37 victory over the Lions in a tuneup for Monday’s regular-season opener against Newnan.
It was the first game for Mark Veal as LaGrange’s head coach.
Veal has taken over for Mike Pauley, who stepped down after two decades at the helm to become the school’s athletic director.
Also on Thursday, LaGrange’s girls’ team eased past Central-Carroll 59-36.
Last season, LaGrange’s boys’ team had a terrific season that included a region championship and a berth in the Class AAAAA quarterfinals.
The Grangers lost some key seniors from that team, and one of their best players is beginning this season on the bench with an injury.
Still, LaGrange looked impressive against a Central-Carroll team that reached the second round of the state tournament last season.
Veal, who had been an assistant to Pauley for more than 10 years before taking over as head coach, said there’s still plenty of work to do.
“Chemistry wise, that’s one thing you want to get better at,” Veal said. “All these guys, they really haven’t been together. During the summer, we had guys injured who weren’t playing. So, tonight was good. Moving forward there’s obviously things we’ll tighten up. That’s what’s exciting is we haven’t reached our peak yet.”
Senior Derieko Smith led the Grangers with 16 points, and Bryan Fanning added 13 points.
Kenan Gray scored nine points, and he provided one of the night’s top highlights with a thunderous dunk in the second half.
All 12 players who were suited up and ready to play got some time on the court, and 11 of them scored.
Junior guard LaPerion Perry, who was an all-region player last season, didn’t play while he recovers from an injury suffered during football season.
LaGrange started quickly.
With Smith and Fanning combining for nine points in the first quarter, the Grangers surged to a 20-16 lead.
In the second period, the Grangers really heated up, outscoring the Lions 28-6 to build a 48-22 lead at the half.
Smith did a lot of the damage in the second period, hitting a pair of 3-pointers while scoring 10 points, showing the sort of explosiveness that made him the Region 1-AAAAA player of the year last season.
The Grangers outscored the Lions 23-15 in the second half to salt the game away.
There was no suspense in Thursday’s girls’ game either.
In the first quarter, the Lady Grangers came out red-hot to take a 25-10 lead, and by the half they were on top 38-15.
LaGrange head coach Jan Fendley wasn’t sure what to expect considering it was the team’s first game, but she was thrilled with the effort.
“We’ve had our practices here and there, but you never know coming off a season where you lose five seniors,” Fendley said. “I thought Shania Woodard stepped up for us. And my guard play, that helped us a lot.”
One of those guards, sophomore Aryan Dozier, led LaGrange with 21 points, and all but four of those points came in the first half.
Woodard added 12 points, and Erica Daniel scored eight points.
In the first period, Dozier came out firing, scoring 13 points to help her team take a commanding lead.
Woodard was also hot in the first period with eight points.
In the first half, Dozier and Woodard combined for 29 of LaGrange’s 38 points.
All 12 LaGrange players got on the court, and seven of them scored.
“Right now, they’re playing well together, they’re having fun together,” Fendley said. “We just have to keep doing that. I was impressed with them. I was proud of them. We were worried coming out, but we kept that fast tempo, and they knocked down layups and big shots.”
LaGrange’s teams are set to play their first regular-season games on Monday at Newnan, and they’ll be on the road again on Tuesday to face Mundy’s Mill.
Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports