BASKETBALL: LaFayette boys seal region tournament’s No. 1 seed, state berth
The LaFayette Ramblers still have one game to go in the regular season before the start of the Region 6-AAA at Southeast Whitfield in just about two weeks’ time, but they already know their season will continue after the region champion is crowned.
A dominating 68-39 victory over second-place Gilmer on Friday night at Don Priest Gymnasium sealed the regular-season title for the Ramblers, the No. 1 overall seed in the region tournament, a bye to the region semifinals and assurance that LaFayette’s name will be listed in the 32-team field for the Class 4A state playoffs once again.
However, head coach Hank Peppers said his team is only focused on preparation for Tuesday’s regular season finale against Ridgeland.
“We’ve got tunnel vision,” he explained. “We’re just focused on the next game and really just the next practice. We want to get a little bit better every day and it starts with defense. You have to get the stops. If you get the stops and you get the boards, it leads to buckets.”
LaFayette got both the stops and the boards in droves against the Bobcats (17-6, 7-4) and converted them into plenty of buckets.
The Ramblers (22-1, 10-1) opened up the game on a 16-4 run before taking a 23-9 lead at the end of the first quarter. The home team would increase their lead to 40-19 by halftime and a step-back 3-pointer by Alex Kelehear beat the third quarter buzzer as LaFayette opened up a massive 64-27 advantage, invoking a shortened six-minute final period.
On a night when Kelehear was honored for recently reaching 1,500 career points, 500 career rebounds and 400 career assists, he added to those totals with 29 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to go with three steals. Dee Southern had 12 points, all in the first half, to go with nine rebounds, while Andrew Pendergrass added nine points.
Rylan Russell picked up five points, followed by DeCameron Porter with four points and nine rebounds. Vyshonn Daniel added three points, while Jaylon Ramsey, Aidan Hadaway and Asa Deal all added two apiece.
The Ramblers also controlled the glass throughout and finished with 19 offensive rebounds as a team.
“Coming into this game, one of our keys to victory was controlling the boards,” Peppers added. “Gilmer is a very good rebounding team, so we had to prioritize that pretty highly. We try to have five guys flying to the boards on every possession because we’re never going to be the biggest team on the floor. But we try to play bigger than we are because, normally, if you win rebounding, you win the game.
“We’re going to keep striving to get better, but I think we’re peaking at the right time and that’s been the goal all along. You want to be in a continuous state of improvement from Day One.”
Gilmer girls 56, LaFayette 54
The Lady Ramblers electrified the home crowd with an impressive fourth-quarter comeback on Friday night. However, the Lady Bobcats - coming into the game in second place in the 6-AAAA standings - would spoil the comeback bid as they hit the game-winner in the final seconds to win a thriller.
LaFayette led 22-20 at halftime, but trailed 25-22 when leading scorer LaTyah Barber had to go to the bench with 6:12 left in the quarter following her third personal foul.
With Barber also the team’s primary ball-handler, Gilmer immediately shifted to a full court press defense, which immediately pay dividends as the Lady Ramblers would turn the ball over five times in the next two minutes, four coming in their own backcourt.
Barbara would return to the game just over two minutes later, but Gilmer’s 14-3 run would help the visitors from Ellijay forge a seemingly comfortable 41-27 lead with only eight minutes left to play.
However, the game was far from finished.
The Lady Ramblers slowly began to chip away at the deficit in the first three minutes of the final period and two free throws by Barber with 4:59 to go trimmed the Lady Bobcats’ lead to single digits at 48-39.
Barber would connect on a lay-up off a steal by Nicky Yancy that cut the deficit to seven with 4:35 to play and, after a Gilmer miss, Barber buried a 3-pointer from the wing and suddenly Gilmer’s lead was down to four.
However, the Lady Ramblers still weren’t finished as they forced turnovers on back-to-back possessions by Gilmer, both of which led to lay-ups by Mykeria Johnson. The freshman’s second basket with 3:46 remaining capped a fast 9-0 run and tied the score at 48 apiece, sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
The score would be knotted up again three more times in the final two minutes, the last time at 54-54 following an inside basket by Marquila Howell with 30 seconds to play. Gilmer would play for one last shot as Bailey Teague drove the lane with the clock winding down. She made a move on the baseline before dumping it off to Elly Callihan, who kissed a shot off the glass with 2.7 seconds left, giving her team a two-point lead.
Inbounding the ball under their own basket, Yancy would attempt a long, full-court pass down, but Gilmer would knock the ball away in the air at the top of the key and corralled the loose ball as time expired.
Callihan had eight of her 14 points in the fourth quarter, four of which came in the final 50 seconds, while Teague added 11 points.
Barber led all scorers with 28 points. Howell connected on two 3-pointers as she finished with 14 points. Alyssa Estus added five points, followed by Johnson with four, Yancy with two and Imani Cook with one.
Tuesday’s home games with Ridgeland are scheduled to tip off at 6 p.m.