Basketball fate tapped the Grangers on the shoulder and informed them that their number was up.
The LaGrange High School boys bowed out of the Class AAAAA State Tournament on Saturday with a 62-60 defeat to South Paulding. Every postseason loss is bitter, but this one was particularly hard to take for the 8th-ranked Grangers.
They had a chance to win the basketball game at the final buzzer, but Alex Dantzler’s three-point shot refused to go down.
“I thought it was going in,” said LaGrange High Head Coach Mark Veal.
But that miss and a lot of other misses cost the Grangers the right of moving on in the State Tournament. The Grangers met their match in the second round of the tournament and just one week after beating Drew High School soundly in the first round of the tourney.
LaGrange High won its first round game by 21 points. The Grangers were also 8-1 in their last nine games heading into the South Paulding showdown at home.
“We never gave up. We just ran out of time. We played in an unbelievable environment, and we had tremendous fan support,” said Veal.
The Grangers had every opportunity to win the game against the South Paulding Spartans. LaGrange High led 17-13 at the end of the first period. The Grangers did get outscored, 19-11 in the second period and fell behind, 32-28.
But LaGrange High came back in the third stanza and took a 46-45 lead. The Grangers outscored the 6thranked Spartans, 18-13 in the third period.
This State Tournament game came down to one quarter, the fourth period, and a handful of possessions. South Paulding made a few more plays than LaGrange did. The Spartans outscored the Grangers, 17-14 in the fourth quarter.
“South Paulding had some big possessions, and they had a lot of putbacks,” said Veal.
The Spartans, who are 25-4 on the season, were led off and on by junior point guard Kane Williams. He was scoring on the perimeter, at the rim and on the free throw line. The 6-foot-3 Williams finished with 33 points.
LaGrange High was led by senior guard Deriko Smith with 23 points. LaPerion Perry, a junior guard for the Grangers, was lighting it up, too, with 14 points.
The foul line, however, did not treat LaGrange High very well. The Grangers went only 14-for-26 at the free throw line. LaGrange High lost by just two points, and the Grangers missed 12 foul shots. That was brutal.
“Free throws were a factor, but if we hadn’t given up so many second-chance points we would have won (anyway). This is sad. We’re all disappointed we’re not advancing (in the State Tournament),” saidVeal. “We had a great year. We played a tough schedule, and we won the region regular season championship and the region tournament (title).”
LaGrange High School closed out the season with a gaudy record of 23-6.
Chris Fernsler Sports Writer