State powerhouses ready for showdown

Published 11:01 pm Thursday, January 12, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

LAGRANGE – They are two of the titans in the state, and they’ll face off tonight in a Region 5-AAAA showdown.

The LaGrange Grangers (14-2), who improved to 3-0 with Tuesday’s win over the Troup Tigers, will face a monumental challenge when they host the Sandy Creek Patriots (9-4), who beat Cartersville in their first region game earlier this week.

LaGrange and Sandy Creek were the two region favorites coming into the season, and neither team has done anything to alter that opinion.

LaGrange’s only two losses came to a pair of strong teams in Hillgrove and Upson-Lee.

LaGrange has won 11 of its past 12 games, and the only loss during that stretch came against Upson-Lee, which has ascended to the top of the state rankings in Class AAAA.

Sandy Creek has a fairly modest record, but two of its four losses came during a tournament in Tennessee that featured elite teams from across the country.

This will be the first of two regular-season meetings between Sandy Creek and LaGrange, and they could meet again in the region tournament, and possibly even down the road in the state tournament.

LaGrange head coach Mark Veal said Sandy Creek is a complete team.

“They’ve got size,” Veal said. “Their two guards are 6-foot-4 each, and they’ve got two 6-8 players and a 6-7 player. It brings back memories of playing Columbia (in the 2010 state-championship game). And all of them can get out there and shoot the ball, which makes them dangerous. They’re good, plain and simple. They’re really good.”

Sandy Creek has made back-to-back appearances in the elite eight of the state tournament, but most of the players from last season’s team either graduated or transferred.

The Patriots have reloaded, though, and they are led by senior Evan Jester, who scored 42 points in a tournament game in Tennessee.

“They put a lot of points on the board, and their size and their length helps them get deflections,” Veal said. “It’s a true test.”

It will be a true test for Sandy Creek as well.

The Grangers, like Sandy Creek, were hit hard by graduation following the 2015-2016 season, but they’ve continued to excel.

It helps to have dynamic senior guard LaPerion Perry back, and fellow seniors Bryan Fanning and Kenan Gray combine to give LaGrange a formidable presence inside.

Seniors Jarious Freeman, Gabe Duckett and D.J. Cooley have been key contributors as well, and junior Bo Russell has provided a punch while coming off the bench.

“We’ve gotten better since the beginning of the year,” Veal said. “We’ve progressed, and we finally started shooting the ball well. Defensively, we’ve done some good things.”

Tonight’s challenge will also be a big one for the LaGrange Lady Grangers, who are looking to bounce back from Tuesday’s loss to Troup.

LaGrange (8-7 overall) fell to 2-1 in Region 5-AAAA with the loss, while Sandy Creek (9-4) is 1-0 in the region after beating Cartersville.

LaGrange was tied with Troup midway through the fourth quarter, but it stumbled late and lost 49-39.

Before that loss, LaGrange had won four consecutive games.

LaGrange’s teams finish the weekend with region road games against Chapel Hill on Saturday.

In other basketball tonight, the Callaway Cavaliers (3-5 overall) will look to improve on their 0-2 Region 5-AA record when they host Spencer (4-10 overall), which is 2-0 in the region.

The Cavaliers, who have won four consecutive region championships, have had two close calls in their region games this season.

After a 58-57 home loss to Heard County, Callaway fell to Jordan 78-71 on Tuesday in Columbus.

The Lady Cavaliers, meanwhile, are 1-1 in the region after getting a breakthrough win over Jordan.

Callaway’s teams will visit Greenville on Saturday in non-region play.

The Troup Lady Tigers (8-6 overall) evened their Region 5-AAAA record at 1-1 with a road win over LaGrange on Tuesday, and they’ll try to make it two in a row with a road win over Cedartown today.

The Tigers (5-9) will carry an 0-2 region record into today’s game.

Troup’s teams will be at home on Saturday against Central-Carroll.

In GISA basketball, LaGrange Academy’s teams will visit Furtah Prep today before hitting the road for makeup games against Bethlehem Christian on Saturday.