Successful season ends for Grangers
Published 12:23 am Tuesday, February 20, 2018
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
LAFAYETTE – It wasn’t the ending they were hoping for, but it was a successful season nonetheless for the LaGrange Grangers.
When the 2016-2017 season came to a close, head coach Mark Veal had to say goodbye to a group of seniors who had accomplished so much during their time at the school.
During the previous three seasons, LaGrange won three consecutive region championships while twice advancing to the final eight of the state tournament.
When the Grangers got together for preseason practice in November, Veal welcomed back one player who started for the previous season’s team.
Despite beginning with nearly a blank slate, though, a program that has thrived over the years continued to excel.
With Saturday’s 75-58 loss to Lafayette in the opening round of the Class AAAA state tournament, LaGrange closed the season with an 18-12 record.
LaGrange had a number of memorable moments throughout the season, including home wins over Sandy Creek and Troup, teams who are both still playing.
“We really returned one experienced player, and our other seniors just sat there and bided their time and waited,” Veal said. “We did the best with what we had, and we think we had a really good year.”
Veal felt his team had a chance to go on the road and keep its season alive, but it wasn’t meant to be against a formidable Lafayette team that won the Region 6-AAAA championship and has only lost twice this season.
The Grangers were within four after the first quarter, but they were outscored 26-10 in the second quarter to fall behind by 20.
LaGrange hung tough in the second half but never got any closer than 14 points.
“I thought we had the right idea with some of the stuff we did, but they played a good game,” Veal said.
It was the final game for LaGrange’s seniors, Bo Russell, Covan Huzzie, Jay Benton, Daz Williams and Jalen Watson.
Among those players, Russell was the only returning starter, although Williams saw significant playing time last season.
All five players were key contributors this season.
“The five seniors we have, they’ve been a part of 99 wins,” Veal said. “They helped bridge our program.
“As I’ve said before, I think a lot of people on the outside expected us to not be very good this year. And the number of games we won, a lot of that’s due to our seniors.”
One of the players who’ll be a centerpiece of next season’s team, Vondez Taylor, led LaGrange with 12 points, and fellow underclassmen Jordan Ogletree had 11 points.
Benton was also in double figures with 10 points, and Williams and Russell had eight and seven points, respectively.
Huzzie made two 3-pointers and scored six points.
Post player Dee Southern led Lafayette with 23 points, and he helped the team get off to a quick start with eight points in the first quarter.
Alex Kelehear, Lafayette’s outstanding guard, scored 17 points, with 12 of those points coming in the second quarter.
The Grangers were down 10-2 early, but they got within three on a Russell 3-pointer.
After Lafayette went back up by seven, Huzzie hit a 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter to make it a four-point game.
It was still a four-point game early in the second quarter, but the Ramblers took control from there to build a 43-23 lead at the half.
The Grangers were within seven on a Taylor 3-pointer midway through the second quarter before the Ramblers went on a 14-1 run to close the half.
The Grangers got as close as 15 three minutes into the second half thanks to 3-pointers by Benton and Williams, but the Ramblers regained control to build a 60-37 lead with 1:07 left in the third quarter.
Taylor did score the final five points of the third quarter to cut Lafayette’s lead to 61-42 heading into the final period.
The Grangers continued to hang around, and they got within 14 on a Huzzie 3-pointer with 1:35 to play, but they went scoreless the rest of the way.