LaGrange Academy claims first region title under Ken Klinger

Published 8:49 pm Friday, February 17, 2023

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The 2022-23 LaGrange Academy girls basketball team etched its name into school history books on Friday night when they captured their first region title since 2016 and their very first under head coach Ken Klinger with a 53-27 win over St. George. 

“I don’t even know when the last time they won the region championship was, which is crazy,” Klinger said. “Sometimes it can be harder to win a regional championship than a state championship. The girls earned this.”

Not a single girl on the team had lifted a region trophy as a member of the Warriors program and neither had either of the coaches. That all changed on Friday. Nobody optimized the relief when the final buzzer rang more than senior Kayla McBride, who played through the middle and high school programs and even won a state title with the Warriors two years ago. She had never won a region tournament before Friday and after the game she was overcome with emotion.

“I was so happy and sad at the same time,” McBride said, “I started crying after the game because all the emotions were coming together, and this being the last time I played on this court after five years of playing varsity on this court.”

The final buzzer brought sweet relief for the home crowd, but the opening half did little to calm any jangly nerves in the stands.  

St. George came out hot and controlled the opening quarter, taking a 16-11 lead after the opening eight minutes of play. The Warriors could not slow down Ashlyn Jones, who scored eight points in the first quarter.

“We were not taking care of the ball early,” Klinger said. “We were forcing it too much. We kept trying to force it into Jazmin, and they were making steals. Once we started playing as a team, we settled into the game.” 

One of the only reasons the Warriors hung in there in the first quarter was the dominance of Anna Beth Kinnersley. She scored nine of her 16 points in the opening quarter and controlled the glass by gobbling up offensive and defensive rebounds. 

After a quiet first quarter with just two points, Jazmin Thornton began to take over in the second, connected on two 3-pointers and finished with eight points in the quarter. She controlled the pace for the Warriors all night and finished with a game-high 19 points. 

The dominant Warrior defense returned over the final three quarters after losing a bit lackadaisical in the first. 

“We allowed too many fast break opportunities for them, and we were not getting back quick enough,” Klinger said. 

After taking a 24-22 lead into halftime, the Warriors came out on the other side with a new purpose. LaGrange Academy completely controlled the second half, outscoring St. George 29-15.

Laura Knight put together a solid second half in which she scored eight points. She briefly left the game with a lower leg injury but battled through it. 

McBride hit two big 3-pointers and finished with six points. Tesia Garrett-Hammett battled foul trouble all night and scored just two points while EG Eiler added two of her own to round out the scoring for the Warriors on the night. 

LaGrange Academy will head into the playoffs with a 19-1 record. The Warriors will in all likelihood have the first overall seed in the playoffs and have a bye in the first round before returning to action next Friday at 1:30 p.m in the state quarterfinals in Macon. With three more wins, the no. 1 ranked Warriors will claim a state title.

“We have to stay centered and stay focused on our goals,” McBride said. “We have to stay together as a team, and we can’t look past anyone. We are going to take it one step at a time.”