Grangers get it done at home
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
One year ago, their season came to a close with a loss in the opening round of the region tournament.
The LaGrange Grangers weren’t going to let that happen again, especially on their home court.
Facing Cedartown in a Region 5-AAAA tournament showdown, LaGrange got a 21-point effort from D.J Burks to win 55-43 and keep its season alive.
LaGrange (18-7), regardless of the outcome of Friday’s semifinal game against Chapel Hill, has qualified for the state tournament after missing out a year ago.
“A pretty win, an ugly win, who cares,” said LaGrange head coach Mark Veal. “We punched our ticket. We were in desperate need of a win, because we haven’t been playing well. Whatever the case, we’re happy to make it to the final four and advance to the state tournament.”
By virtue of its third-place finish in the region, LaGrange was able to host a tournament game, and it was a raucous atmosphere in what could have been the final game in a gym that opened its doors in 1953.
Burks, who had a big game a few days after earning a first-team selection on the all-region team, remembers all too well how last season ended, and he was glad this year’s elimination game was at home.
“We were in the same situation last year, except we were in Cartersville,” Burks said. “We came out with a bad taste in our mouths. Knowing it was going to be at home, we had to give it everything. The fans were in it. The place was rocking tonight.”
The Grangers struggled offensively in the early going with nine points in the first quarter, but they only trailed by two points.
The Grangers were down by five points with less than two minutes left in the second quarter before going on an 8-4 run to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 27-26 at the half.
Senior Blake Miles hit a 3-pointer in the closing moments of the first half to get the Grangers within one.
The Grangers had a one-point lead in the third quarter when Burks hit a 3-pointer, and that was the start of a 7-0 run that made it a 41-33 game.
The Bulldogs hung tough, though, and their deficit was 41-37 heading to the final quarter.
The Bulldogs continued to fight back, and they were within two with 3:55 to play, but the rest of the game belonged to the Grangers.
Javon Brown pulled down an offensive rebound with 3:33 to play to push the lead to four, and a little more than a minute later Kobe Jones had a steal and layup to give the Grangers a 48-42 lead.
Moments later Burks had a steal of his own, and he dished a pass to Nafis Carston for a layup, and LaGrange was up by eight with 1:44 to play.
The Grangers continued to pull away, with the Bulldogs’ lone point in the final three minutes coming on a free throw.
“We started off slow. We got down seven at one point, and luckily we hit some big shots and made it a one-point game at the half,” Veal said. “Then we were finally able to separate.”
While Burks led LaGrange with 21 points, Carson had a big game inside with 15 points, and Jones added eight points.