Grangers head to Savannah for state opener
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The LaGrange Grangers should be back at full strength as they begin their state-tournament stay on Wednesday in Savannah.
Junior point guard Kobe Jones has been starting for the Grangers since he was a freshman, and he’s not only the leading scorer, but he is a facilitator who gets his teammates involved.
Unfortunately for the Grangers, Jones had to leave in the second half of a semifinal game in the Region 2-AAAA against Hardaway with an injured ankle.
Jones didn’t play at all in the third-place game against Carver, which LaGrange lost in double overtime.
Jones was on the bench supporting his teammates, but his presence was no doubt missed on the court, even as LaGrange hung tough with Hardaway and Carver.
LaGrange will likely need to be at full strength to have a chance to beat a strong New Hampstead team that won the Region 3-AAAA tournament.
In the region-championship game, New Hampstead overwhelmed Benedictine 86-58 to earn the number one seed.
LaGrange was in a similar position last season.
After finishing fourth in Region 5-AAAA, LaGrange hung tough with Region 7-AAAA-champion Denmark before losing 68-62.
Denmark won two more games to reach the state semifinals.
“We’ll play the number one seed in New Hampstead, and they just won their region championship by 40,” Veal said. “Last year we went and played at Denmark and gave them all they could handle. We’re playing well, and I think Kobe will be back healthy.”
In the region tournament, with Jones on the floor, LaGrange beat Columbus and Troup to reach the semifinals and earn a spot at state.
In the Troup game, Jones scored 14 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter as LaGrange won 57-51.
In the semifinals, LaGrange had the lead in the fourth quarter before Hardaway rallied for a 56-47 victory.
Playing its fourth game in four days, LaGrange pushed Carver to double overtime before losing 63-59.
“We had to beat two teams (Columbus and Troup) we hadn’t beat all year just to get to this point,” Veal said.
While Jones is one of LaGrange’s talented underclassmen, the team has a strong senior class as well.
Among the seniors is Taylor Stephens, who did a stellar job filling in for Jones at point guard in the Carver game.
Another senior is Javon Brown, who has provided a strong inside presence and seemingly provides a highlight dunk every game.
In the game against Troup in the region tournament, Brown put an exclamation point on the victory with a dunk as time expired.
Guard Avery Hill provides a deft outside shooting touch, and fellow seniors AJ Traylor, Malik Hall and Lataurus Swindle have been key contributors as well.
LAGRANGE VS. NEW HAMPSTEAD
WHAT: First round of Class AAAA state tournament
WHEN: Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: LaGrange finished fourth in Region 2-AAAA; New Hampstead finished first in Region 3-AAAA
UP NEXT: The winner will play Perry or Dougherty in the second round