Region time arrives
Published 10:05 pm Thursday, January 3, 2019
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It’s a clean slate.
The basketball teams from LaGrange and Troup have enjoyed plenty of success through the first month of the season, but they’ll all be starting over today with the commencement of region play.
For the next month, it’ll be almost nothing but Region 5-AAAA games for the boys’ and girls’ teams from Troup and LaGrange.
The region journey begins today, with Troup visiting Chapel Hill, and LaGrange hitting the road to play Central-Carroll.
The local teams will play their first region home games on Saturday, with LaGrange hosting Cedartown, and Troup welcoming Sandy Creek.
The boys’ and girls’ teams from LaGrange and Troup head into region play with winning records, and they’ll look to keep that momentum going this weekend.
No local team has been hotter than the Troup Lady Tigers (7-4 overall), who have won seven of their past eight games after starting 0-3.
Troup lost those first three games by a combined nine points, including a triple-overtime loss to McIntosh, before getting on track with a victory over Valley.
Since then, Troup’s only loss came to Harrison, which has played for back-to-back state championships in Class AAAAAA.
Troup followed that up with wins over Griffin, Newnan and Callaway to finish its non-region schedule with a flourish.
“We’ve been doing pretty well lately after those first three games,” Troup head coach Carla Thornton said after the win over Callaway. “We just want to keep up our confidence.”
Troup’s team is a mixture of talented veterans, including junior post player Amber Gilbert who is the leading scorer, as well as some freshmen who have settled into their roles.
Freshmen Aniya Palmer and Samarria Weldon have been among Troup’s top players during the hot stretch, and sophomore guard Jada Green has also been playing well.
Palmer provided Troup’s most memorable play to this point when she went coast-to-coast for a layup as time expired in a 38-37 win over Newnan.
Palmer had a team-leading 22 points in that game, and she followed that up by scoring 14 points against Harrison.
One player who has been getting it done from the get-go is Gilbert, who has had some monster games.
In a 48-41 win over Newnan in a tournament in Carrollton, Gilbert scored 29 points, and she was 14-of-16 from the free-throw line.
In a 46-36 win over Callaway, Gilbert scored 26 points, and she was 14-of-15 from the free-throw line.
LaGrange’s girls’ team is also off to a strong start, posting an 8-5 record while facing a challenging non-region schedule.
LaGrange had won five of six games before heading into the holiday break with back-to-back losses to Woodland and Alcovy.
Despite that, it has been a productive first month of the season for the new-look Lady Grangers.
LaGrange lost its two leading scorers from last season, including Aryan Dozier, who is now a freshman at Columbus State.
Senior Zaria Russell has helped fill that scoring void by leading the team in scoring at 13 points per game.
Russell has been in double digits in points in all but one game this season, and she has a season-high 25 points in a win over Callaway on Dec. 11.
Russell was a part-time player in previous years, but head coach Stephen Tuck felt she was ready for a more prominent role this season.
“As a coaching staff, we knew she was capable of it, although maybe not this fast,” Tuck said following Russell’s outburst against Callaway. “She came in, and she took basketball seriously. Her motor never stops.”
Other players who have helped provide some scoring punch this season are Kamelah Kelley, Chaquave’ayr Robinson, Carmen McGhee and Blair Herrod, who has made 12 3-pointers.
In boys’ basketball, LaGrange embarks on its region schedule riding high with a five-game winning streak.
LaGrange fell to 3-5 after back-to-back close losses to Whitewater and South Paulding, but it hasn’t lost since.
In last week’s LaGrange Toyota Basketball Classic, LaGrange went 3-0 and it beat Harris County 68-53 in the championship game.
LaGrange will look to keep the good times rolling today against Central-Carroll.
“We have to pick up where we left off for region play,” said senior Jordan Ogletree, who scored 18 points against Harris County. “We have to keep it going.”
When the Grangers hit the court for their season opener, it was a new-look squad.
As Veal pointed out following a recent game, even the players who saw significant playing time last year have new roles this season.
One of those players is Ogletree, who has stepped up and played well this season, and he was terrific against Harris County.
Another veteran is senior Vondez Taylor, who has been a consistent scorer, and senior guard Jalen Parker has been getting it done as well.
Earley Sanders, another Granger veteran, has been a force in the paint.
One of LaGrange’s most consistent players has been freshman Jakobe Jones, who scored 17 points in the championship game against Harris County.
Jones has not only been scoring, but he’s done a terrific job at point guard.
“He’s learning on the fly,” Veal said of Jones. “He’s gotten better since game one.”
The Troup Tigers carry an 8-4 record into region play, and they’ve won two straight games since losing three in a row.
A hallmark of Troup’s team so far is its depth.
Head coach Blake Craft has routinely been using 10 or more players, and most of them have been scoring points.
Jaquavo McFarland is Troup’s leading scorer, and fellow senior Brandon Smith has also been an effective scorer.
Other men who been key members of head coach Blake Craft’s rotation are Isaiah Cox, Ja’Rell Smith, Kobe Hudson, Gabe Cofield, Trey Williams, Andy Boykin, Jamari Thrash, Joko Willis and Qua Johnson.
“The chemistry is great right now,” Craft said. “It might be Brandon (leading in scoring) one night. It might be Jamari. It’s the next guy up, and they’re buying in.”
Craft said his message to each player is to come into the game and “give me two or three hard minutes.”
The key, Craft said, is succeeding on the court, regardless of who is getting the points or the assists.
“Everybody’s starting to click and get on the same page, and they’re starting to understand,” Craft said. “It’s not that you scored, it’s that we scored. It’s not that you get a stop, it’s that we get a stop.”