Grangers facing big challenge

Published 12:45 am Thursday, February 23, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

LAGRANGE – It’s a final-four caliber matchup, but LaGrange and Richmond Academy (Augusta) will be playing a few rounds earlier than that.

LaGrange and Richmond Academy, who have combined for a 48-8 record, will meet in the second round of the Class AAAA boys’ state basketball tournament.

LaGrange, which overwhelmed West Hall in the first round of the state tournament, will host Richmond Academy today, with tip-off set for 7 p.m.

Richmond Academy was the top team in Region 3-AAAA during the regular season, but it was knocked off by Baldwin in the championship game of the region tournament.

LaGrange won the Region 5-AAAA tournament as the number one seed, and it had no trouble with West Hall in the first round.

Things will be considerably more difficult from here on out, though.

If LaGrange can get past Richmond Academy, it would likely face a formidable Henry County team in the quarterfinals, and a date with unbeaten Upson Lee could await in the final four.

“We feel like we’re sitting in a good position, but this next game is going to be extra tough,” LaGrange head coach Mark Veal said. “We’ll just have to bring it. We’re in a tough bracket, but we’ll come out and do our best and give it all we’ve got.”

Whatever happens today and possibly beyond, it has been a special season for the Grangers.

A year ago, the Grangers won a second consecutive region championship, and they made it to the second round of the state tournament.

That LaGrange would continue to win big this season was far from a sure thing.

Veal was tasked with finding replacements for some key players, including Derieko Smith, who was the Region 1-AAAA player of the year for the 2015-2016 season.

The Grangers have, in fact, been even better than they were last season when they finished with a 23-6 record.

With Saturday’s 80-62 drubbing of West Hall, LaGrange is 25-3, and it has only lost once in 2017.

Since falling to Upson-Lee in the championship game of the LaGrange Toyota Basketball Classic on Dec. 30, LaGrange has won 13 of its previous 14 games, and that includes a dramatic 65-58 overtime win over Sandy Creek in the region-championship game.

Senior guard LaPerion Perry, a first-team all-region player, is LaGrange’s leading scorer, and he has been phenomenal, averaging more than 20 points per game.

Junior guard Bo Russell has also been an explosive player this season, and he scored 16 points in the state-tournament win over West Hall.

Senior Jarious Freeman, who made a pair of 3-pointers against West Hall, has also been an effective scorer this season.

LaGrange is well-fortified inside, with seniors Kenan Gray and Bryan Fanning leading the way.

Both players are 6-foot-6, and they provide a formidable one-two presence inside.

Other players including Daz Williams, Quez Jackson and DJ Cooley have also been key players for the Grangers this season.

Among Richmond Academy’s top players is 6-6 senior Moses Williams, and junior guard Dantavian Stephens is capable of putting up big numbers.