Memorable tourney run for Cougars
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It all came together at the right time for Lafayette Christian School’s girls’ basketball team.
Following an up-and-down regular season, the Lady Warriors surged to a region championship, and they won two games in the state tournament before losing to the eventual state champion in the semifinals.
The 2019-2020 school year also saw Lafayette Christian School’s football team play for a state championship, while a member of the boys’ basketball team reached the 1,000-point milestone for his career.
Here’s a look back at the 2019-2020 year in sports for Lafayette Christian:
MAKING IT HAPPEN: It was a breakthrough season for Lafayette Christian’s girls’ basketball team, which not only claimed a region title but won twice in the state tournament to reach the final four.
“We were really excited for the girls,” said Lafayette Christian School head coach Rene Gomez. “The girls’ program, we had had success, not at the level we enjoyed this year, but we had success. We were always able to get our foot in the door at the state tournament, but we ended up running into a road block and never advanced past the first round.”
Lafayette Christian hosted the region tournament, and it ended up playing Community Christian for the title.
While Lafayette Christian swept both games in the regular season from Community Christian, the second game went down to the wire, and Gomez was expecting another hard-fought showdown for the region title.
“When we beat them the first time, they were without some key players because it was close to Christmas,” Gomez said. “We beat them by about 15 points. When they played here the last game of the regular season, we won by a bucket, two points. It was contentious. They’d get the lead, and we’d get the lead. So I figured we were going to be in for a doozy during the region championship. They were chomping at the bit. They knew they could play with us.”
Turns out, Community Christian had no chance.
“We played the game of our lives,” Gomez said. “Savannah Bryant had an MVP-type game, and we ended up winning by 25. It wasn’t even close. Everybody was hitting shots, we were able to control the game. It was just perfect. We rode that momentum into the state playoffs and made it the furthest in school history and get to the final four.”
The Cougars made it to the semifinals despite only having seven players on the roster by the close of the season.
“Our games were close, so if we were to get into foul trouble or have to pull girls out because of exhaustion, what we coming in with from the bench was a lot of inexperience, and a lot of young players that really weren’t proven, so teams would make a run,” Gomez said. “I had to condition my girls and say hey, you may have to play the full 32 minutes.”
One of those players Gomez was counting on was eighth-grader Carmen Bridges, who came into her own as the season went along.
“Probably four weeks into the season, we had a player come up ineligible with grades, so we were down to seven,” Gomez said. “(Bridges) was thrust into the starting lineup, and she just exploded. She was hitting not only key baskets, but she was a formidable defender, and was second on the team in blocks.”
Millie Childree was the only senior on last season’s team, so Lafayette Christian figures to be in excellent shape looking ahead to the 2020-2021 season.
“We’re hoping to get our numbers up, and keep the nucleus of what carried us to the final four last year, and build on that,” Gomez said.
TEAM MEMBERS: Savanna Bryant, Millie Childree, Juleigh Haynes, Hana Stevens, Carmen Bridges, Leah Ward and Ana Kate Bakarich
COACHES: Head coach Rene Gomez, assistant coach Melissa Ward
CLOSE CALL: Lafayette Christian School’s football team came up just short in its bid to win the second state title in program history.
Facing Griffin Christian in the state-championship game in November, Lafayette Christian had the ball in the closing moments with a chance to win it, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Griffin Christian recovered a fumble in the final minute, and it ran out the clock to preserve a 19-13 victory.
It was a heart-breaking setback, but head coach Billy Bryant had nothing but praise for his players following the final game.
“They played with heart. Every time we played, they never gave up,” Bryant said. “Even when we got defeated, like tonight they never gave up. Tonight, was one of those nights where the ball didn’t go our way, but these guys are going to learn from this and will come back next year stronger.”
Lafayette Christian won an eight-man state championship in 2015, and it lost in the state-title game in 2018 after making the transition to 11-man football.
MILESTONE: There is one member of the 1,000-point club at Lafayette Christian School, and it is Cameron Gisler.
The senior came into a game against Griffin Christian in January needing 10 points to reach 1,000 points, and he knocked down a free throw in the second quarter to reach that milestone.
Gisler made his way to the bench and got a huge from his father David Gisler, who is the head coach.
“As a dad, obviously I’m proud,” David Gisler said. “I can remember when he was 9-years-old, out in the driveway trying to figure out how to dribble between his legs. He has worked really hard, with the goal since he was nine to play college basketball, and now he’s going to have that opportunity next year at Toccoa Falls.”
It was a tough season from a win-loss standpoint for the Cougars, but they still qualified for the state tournament before going out in the first round.
MAKING PROGRESS: After struggling through a 4-14 season in 2018, Lafayette Christian’s volleyball team made dramatic progress last season.
“They went from winning three games the year before, to having double digits in wins,” said Rene Gomez, Lafayette Christian’s headmaster and former volleyball coach at the school. “That was a great turnaround. Katie Firth is our coach, and she’s doing a fantastic job with them. We’re bringing back a lot of girls.”
CUT SHORT: Lafayette Christian School’s baseball team was hoping to win a second consecutive state championship, but it was unable to defend its title.
The Cougars were nine games into their season when it was postponed, and later canceled, in the middle of March.
Lafayette Christian had won four straight games to improve to 6-3 when everything was shut down.
In its final game, a 10-5 victory over Konos Academy, Lafayette Christian rallied for six runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to win it.
In 2019 in its second season as a varsity program, Lafayette Christian beat Peachtree Academy to capture the state title.
With nearly every player returning, the Cougars figured to have a solid shot at repeating this year, but they didn’t get the opportunity.
Lafayette Christian School’s boys’ and girls’ soccer teams were also in the midst of their seasons when the shutdown began.