Historic day for Troup
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It’s not just another game for the Troup Tigers.
Troup is playing the cross-town rival LaGrange Grangers on Friday, and it’s always a special occasion when those two foes get together.
What makes the game particularly meaningful is where it’ll be played.
With a few thousand fans looking on, Troup High will open its brand-new gym against LaGrange, with the girls’ game tipping off at 6 p.m., and the boys’ game to follow.
The sparkling new facility has approximately double the capacity of the older gym, and chances are every seat will be filled.
It’ll be an electric, charged atmosphere, and obviously the Tigers are hoping to defend their new home and hand the Grangers their first loss of the season.
Troup (6-6 overall) is 0-2 in Region 5-AAAA, while LaGrange (16-0 overall) is 3-0 in region play.
“It’s going to be loud in here. It’s going to be fun,” said Troup head coach Blake Craft while watching a freshman game in the new gymnasium on Thursday evening. “I told them to enjoy it, but make sure you’re enjoying it for the right reasons. This game, you do the small things right, the big things will happen. Don’t try to make the big things happen, because then nothing will happen. Do the small things right first, and all the fun things will happen.”
Beating the Grangers doesn’t figure to be an easy task.
Sixteen teams have tried to hand the Grangers a loss, and none of them have been successful.
‘They’ve got some good momentum right now,” Craft said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
The Tigers, though, believe they have what it takes to knock the Grangers from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Troup is 0-2 in the region, but it has played a pair of state-ranked teams in Chapel Hill and Sandy Creek, and both games were competitive.
Including those two region games, the Tigers have faced a challenging schedule that no doubt has them ready for the difficult road ahead.
“I think it’s really prepared us,” said senior Gabe Cofield. “Losing close games, we take from that, we learn from that, and we can prevent that from happening again.”
The Tigers are led by a group of seniors that includes Cofield, Camren O’Neal, Trey Williams, Qua Johnson and Isaiah Cox.
Oftentimes the five seniors are on the court at the same time, giving Craft an experienced group to rely on.
“I like the confidence (Craft) gives us,” Cofield said. “He can call out a play, and we’re able to go out there and do it. It’s all on us, and our chemistry is great together. We’ve been together since the 10th grade.”
The unbeaten Grangers are a veteran squad as well.
Seniors Earley Sanders, Kindae Maddox, Blake Miles, D.J. Burks and Nafis Carston are all key contributors, and they’ve helped the Grangers get off to their best start since the 2009-2010 season when their only loss came in the state-championship game.
“We’ve been playing together since we were in the fifth grade leading up to high school,” said Maddox, one of those seniors. “That’s why we’re so good.”
While the Grangers have some gifted players, including sophomore guard Kobe Jones who is the team’s leading scorer, it’s all about the team at LaGrange.
“We’ve been playing together since the summer,” Maddox said. “That’s what our chemistry comes from. We’re brothers, and we love each other off the court.”
Burks, a sharp-shooting guard who is consistently one of the team’s top scorers, said “we’re getting everybody involved. We’re playing as a team. That’s what got us to this point, playing as a team.”
The architect of the team’s success is head coach Mark Veal, who has watched his team win every time it has stepped onto the court this season.
As for Friday’s showdown with Troup, Veal said “we’ll treat it like every other game.”
That doesn’t mean the coach won’t be a little anxious, though.
“I get butterflies and jitters no matter who we’re playing,” hVeal said. “Even a scrimmage game I got jitters.”
Both teams will have to turn around and play again on Saturday.
Troup hosts Cedartown while LaGrange will be at home against Sandy Creek.