Rivals ready to tangle
By Kevin Eckleberry
It’s a big game.
It always is when the LaGrange Grangers and Troup Tigers get together.
Whatever happens in today’s game, though, there will still plenty of work left to do for the Grangers and the Tigers as they make their way through a rugged Region 5-AAAA schedule.
There are still nearly a month’s worth of games remaining leading up to the region tournament in February.
Nonetheless, it is always an electric atmosphere when Troup and LaGrange get together, and tonight likely won’t be an exception.
As always seems to be the case, it will likely be standing-room only in LaGrange’s old gym by the time the boys’ game tips off.
First up will be the girls’ game at 6 p.m., and the boys’ game will follow around 7:30 p.m.
In the boys’ rivalry, the Grangers have had the upper-hand in recent years.
Troup’s most recent victory over LaGrange came late in the 2011-2012 season when it won 71-68.
Since then, it has been all LaGrange, which has swept the season series from its rival for five consecutive seasons, although there have been a handful of close calls.
The Tigers, under the direction of first-year head coach Blake Craft, are hoping to change their fortunes today.
Craft isn’t new to the rivalry, although he’s on the other side of the equation now.
Craft was an assistant at LaGrange before accepting the head-coaching job at Troup.
“I’ve been on it on one side (of the rivalry), and I’m interested to see it from the other side,” Craft said after practice on Monday.
Troup and LaGrange are both coming off losses to teams expected to compete for the region championship.
On Friday, Troup (6-6 overall) hung tough with Sandy Creek before losing 63-56 to fall to 1-1 in the region.
Craft isn’t about to accept a moral victory, but he was encouraged to see his team go toe-to-toe with an elite team in its own gym.
Jarrious Jefferson, who is having a big senior season, led the Tigers with 31 points against the powerful Patriots.
Sandy Creek reached the state semifinals last season, and most of those same players have returned.
“We’ve played the best team, at their place, and had a chance to beat them,” Craft said.
LaGrange (10-6 overall) had a 13-point lead in the second half on Saturday before losing to Cartersville 64-40 to drop to 1-2 in the region.
After managing just 41 points in a road loss to region foe Cedartown on Friday, LaGrange played much better on Saturday and was a few plays away from beating a strong Cartersville team.
“We bounced back from (the Cedartown game) where we didn’t play well,” LaGrange head coach Mark Veal said. “We put ourselves in a great position to win against a good team and just came up short.”
For the Grangers, losing a game at home is a rare occurrence.
With a usually boisterous student section, the Grangers have only suffered a handful of losses on their home court in recent years.
Craft knows how big of a challenge it is to win at LaGrange.
“It’s hard to win on the road against LaGrange,” Craft said. “You’ve got their fans, and their kids shoot well. You’ve got to stick to your game plan.”
It helps that Troup has a genuine superstar in Jefferson, who is having a monster senior season.
Jefferson showed on Friday at Sandy Creek that is capable of performing at a high level, no matter the opponent, and no matter the location.
“We have a player who can get you over the hump,” Craft said. “It’s good to have that.”
LaGrange’s leading man is senior guard Bo Russell, who scored 27 points against Cartersville on Saturday.
LaGrange has a number of players capable of filling up the score book, including seniors Daz Williams, Jay Benton and Covan Huzzie, each of whom is capable of getting hot from the outside.
In the loss to Cedartown, Williams made five 3-pointers and scored 18 points.
Sophomore post player Jordan Ogletree is beginning to come into his own, and he had 12 points against Cartersville.
Troup also has a number of other players who can score points in bunches, including post players Montez Crowe, King Mwikuta, Andy Boykin and Tristen Ware, as well as guards Kobe Hudson and Trey Williams.
LaGrange and Troup will both have to quickly put today’s game behind them, win or lose.
Troup ends the week with home games against Cedartown on Friday and Central-Carroll on Saturday.
LaGrange will be at home against Sandy Creek Friday before visiting Chapel Hill on Saturday.
“Do we want to beat our rival? Yes we do,” Craft said. “But at the same time, every region game is big. That’s the key. Let’s not just practice really well for our rival, let’s do that for every game. That’s the mark of a good team.”
In today’s girls’ game, LaGrange (7-9 overall) will put its perfect 3-0 region record on the line against Troup (6-6), which is 1-1 in the region.
Troup hung tough with a strong Sandy Creek team on Friday, but it was unable to overcome a scoreless fourth quarter on the way to a 40-30 loss.
While Troup hasn’t been a prolific scoring team, averaging a little more than 40 points per game, it has been in nearly every game thanks to a stingy defense.
In the loss to Sandy Creek, Jedda Madden led Troup with 15 points.
LaGrange has been thriving since the return of senior guard Aryan Dozier, who missed nearly three weeks with an illness.
Dozier returned for the start of region play, and she and fellow senior guard Chnaireia Strozier have been giving opponents fits.
In Saturday’s 46-35 win over Cartersville, Dozier and Strozier each scored 18 points.
Also today, Callaway’s teams will be at home against Region 5-AA foe Jordan. The Cavaliers (0-9 overall) are 0-2 in the region, and they’re hoping for a breakthrough win tonight.
The Cavaliers have been competitive in nearly every one of their games, but they’re still looking for that elusive victory.
It’s an experienced team made up mostly of freshmen and sophomores, and veteran head coach Terry Hayes is proud of the effort the players have given.
Following Saturday’s loss to East Coweta, Hayes said “they never quit. They have a never-say-die attitude.”
It’s a different story for the Lady Cavaliers (3-7), who are 2-0 in the region after wins over Heard County and Lamar County.
Callaway’s teams will visit region foe Spencer on Friday before hosting Greenville on Saturday.
In private-school basketball this week, Lafayette Christian School’s teams will host Harvester Christian on Friday.
LaGrange Academy’s teams will visit St. George today before hosting Furtah Prep on Friday.