LaGrange, Marist meeting again

Published 12:16 am Wednesday, February 21, 2018


Daily News

A year ago, the LaGrange Lady Grangers outlasted Marist 46-43 in the opening round of the Class AAAA state tournament.

LaGrange is hoping history repeats itself today.

Those same two teams are playing once again, although the game will be at Marist this time around, and the stakes are a bit higher since this is the second round of the state tournament.

Marist will host today’s game at 6:30 p.m. on its campus in Atlanta, with the winner advancing to the quarterfinals to play either Americus-Sumter or Burke County.

LaGrange (19-9) pulled away from Heritage-Catoosa in the fourth quarter to win its first-round game 59-50, while Marist (22-2) overwhelmed St. Pius X 36-22.

Both teams are hot.

LaGrange has only lost one game in 2018, and that came to Sandy Creek in the Region 5-AAAA-championship game.

Before that, LaGrange had won 13 consecutive games, and it followed up the loss to Sandy Creek with an impressive performance against Heritage.

Marist has been nearly perfect this season, and LaGrange head coach Stephen Tuck said it’s all about execution.

“They are really disciplined, and patient in what they want to do,” Tuck said. “Look at their box scores, and (the Marist coach) does a good job of setting the game plan. They’ve had games where they scored 29 points and won, and other games where they’re in the 50s. Each and every game, they’re really patient and confident in what they do.”

LaGrange followed up its victory over Marist last season with a 44-35 loss to Cross Creek in the second round.

As that game went along, Tuck felt his players gained a sense of confidence that they could play with one of the state’s best teams.

“We went into the game last year against Cross Creek, and they started to see that we could play with those girls,” Tuck said. “This year, we’re going into that situation feeling that way (from the start). They understand that in a way we’re the underdog, but they feel like they’re up to the challenge, and have a sense that we can play with these girls.”

LaGrange is led by its three seniors, Aryan Dozier, Chnaireia Strozier and Shaq Sutton, who combined for 51 points in the tournament win over Heritage.

Dozier is the Region 5-AAAA player of the year, and Strozier is a first-team all-region player.

Dozier and Strozier are a pair of dynamic and high-scoring guards who both have the ability to score in bunches, and while Sutton isn’t a prolific scorer, she provides an important role.

Against Heritage, Sutton scored six points in a brief span in the second quarter as LaGrange surged from six points down, and as she always does, she was grabbing rebounds and playing lock-down defense.

Tuck got to know Sutton when he was the junior-varsity coach, and he knew then how much of a contribution she could make to the varsity squad.

“I had Shaq originally on JV,” Tuck said. “I knew what she brought already. I looked at her as the heart and soul of that team. I knew if she had that chance, she’d bring that same energy and passion (to the varsity level), and she’s done that.”

Dozier and Strozier are both four-year starters, and they’ve been outstanding players since they were freshmen.

Tuck has enjoyed getting to know all three of the seniors.

“Being able to just see them mature and grow as basketball players, and just talking to them about different things in life, it’s been really fun, and a blessing,” Tuck said.

Outside of the three seniors, LaGrange has some underclassmen who have developed into standout players.

Among that group is junior guard Blair Herrod who hit a 3-pointer against Heritage along with Kamelah Kelley, Madison Coverson , Katelyn Hill, Brandasia Cofield and Chaquave’ayr Robinson.

While Strozier and Dozier are LaGrange’s top scoring threats, Tuck believes any of the other players are capable of hitting clutch baskets.

“The beauty of this year’s team is all of the other girls have a lot more confidence,” Tuck said. “They’re not afraid to take those shots. Last year, they were afraid. They weren’t ready for that moment. This year, we’re more prepared to take and make those shots.”