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Memorable night for Grangers

By Kevin Eckleberry

kevin.eckleberry@lagrangenews.com

LAGRANGE – When the LaGrange Grangers needed a big play, when they needed a spark, when they needed someone to step up and embrace the moment, LaPerion Perry was up to the challenge.

The Grangers are in the elite eight of the Class AAAA state tournament after dispatching Richmond Academy 85-74 on Friday night at home.

It was a hard-fought game.

Richmond Academy brought a loaded roster into Friday’s game, and it was ranked as high as second in some state polls.

The Grangers had one big edge, though, and that was the man wearing the number four.

Perry, the senior guard, was unstoppable.

Whether he was hitting 3-pointers, or getting to the rim, or getting steals, or knocking down clutch free throws, Perry delivered a phenomenal performance to help the Grangers (26-3) keep their season alive and reach the quarterfinals for the second time in three years.

Perry finished with 32 points, and he had 11 of those points in the fourth period as the Grangers put the game away by scoring 29 points.

“You can’t say enough good things about him,” LaGrange head coach Mark Veal said. “Not only is he a good kid, but he’s an experienced player for us. He’s a four-year starter, and he’s been all-region for four years. He’s just a phenomenal basketball player.”

Perry was having a somewhat quiet night when he hit a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to tie the game at 33-33.

Before that shot, Richmond Hill had scored five straight points, and it looked like LaGrange was going to head to the half with the lead, and the momentum.

Perry had nine points in the third quarter as LaGrange built a 56-48 lead.

With Perry leading the way, the Grangers increased the pace of play, and that worked to their favor.

“I felt like we needed to speed the game up,” Perry said. “They have people that can run, but not like us. We sped it up, and they couldn’t stick with us.”

In the fourth quarter, Richmond Academy made a run and got as close as two, but Perry helped make sure LaGrange never surrendered the lead as he scored 11 points.

When the lead was down to four, Perry hit a 3-pointer, and late in the game he hit four straight free throws to help the Grangers put the game on ice.

Even as the Grangers built a 10-point lead with two minutes left following back-to-back fast-break dunks by Bo Russell and Kenan Gray, Perry said there was no let-up.

“You just keep going,” Perry said. “You don’t stop until the clock’s at zero.”

While Perry had one of his most memorable nights during a storied prep career, everyone LaGrange player who stepped onto the court contributed to the win.

Senior post player Bryan Fanning scored 13 points, and he was active throughout the game, whether he was driving to the basket, grabbing rebounds, or blocking shots.

One of Fanning’s blocks led to a dunk by Gray with two minutes left that pushed the lead to 10.

Fanning knew the challenge that was awaiting him, and he was ready for it.

“It made me better as a player,” Fanning said. “I wanted to challenge myself, because it’s going to get more competitive as we go on.”

Another senior, guard Gabe Duckett, added 12 points, and six of them came during the critical fourth quarter.

Russell, a junior guard, had nine points, and it was his break-away dunk late in the game that helped the Grangers put it away.

Gray also had nine points, and he held he was a force inside.

Jarious Freeman and Quez Jackson each scored five points, and D.J. Cooley provided some key minutes off the bench in the first half.

The Grangers, perhaps because of their depth, were the better team late as they ran the Musketeers out of the building.

After a 33-point first half, the Grangers exploded for 52 points in the second half, and 29 of those points came in the final period.

As the pace of the game increased, the Musketeers were unable to keep up, and the Grangers pulled away.

The Grangers also made their free throws, which was a key.

LaGrange was 17-of-22 from the line for the game, and it made 9-of-11 attempts in the fourth quarter.

When LaGrange lost in the second round a year ago to South Paulding, it struggled to make free throws.

“Last year against South Paulding we missed 12 and we lost by two,” Veal said. “This game, we hit them and we won.”

If LaGrange beats Henry County, it could face a final-four test against unbeaten Upson-Lee, and another outstanding opponent would be waiting in the championship game.

The Grangers, with Perry leading the way, are ready for whatever challenge they’re confronted with.

“We can beat anybody,” Perry said. “That’s the way we feel.”