It wasn’t easy.
The Cougars had their backs against the wall. Lafayette Christian was pushed, jostled, shoved and challenged. The Cougars were behind early in the fourth quarter after a layin from North Georgia Christian senior forward Norris Rettiger.
But what the Cougars from Lafayette Christian didn’t do was lose their nerve or the game. Sophomore guard Ross Clifton and the Cougars rallied for a 60-53 win over the Chargers for the boys state basketball championship on Saturday afternoon at Gordon State College in Barnesville.
At the end of the game Lafayette Christian was emotionally drained, but during the frantic fourth quarter the Cougars went out and took the state title game from a talented and worthy North Georgia Christian team.
“This game was very intense and fast paced. They put everything into it, and so did we,” said the 5-foot-11 Ross, who did his part and then some.
Ross hit two mindboggling and rim-rattling three-pointers in the fourth period. The Cougars would have been hard pressed to win the state title without Ross.
North Georgia Christian had a 42-40 lead with 7:12 left. The Chargers could almost taste the state title. North Georgia Christian had the Cougars on the ropes. And then the Chargers didn’t.
Lafayette Christian used some elbow grease and some full court quickness to go on a 14-3 run, thus giving the Cougars a 54-45 lead with 3:24 remaining. Clifton knocked down his two pulsating three-pointers. Lafayette Christian also got two monster layups from senior guard Antaveis Sands during that game-changing stretch in the fourth stanza.
“We had to step our game up, and we believed in our shots,” said Sands, who worked hard for his nine points and eight rebounds in this state final.
Lafayette Christian’s fourth quarter rally began with a fastbreak layup from senior guard Jemi Reed that tied the game up at 42-42. After that the Cougars got some championship- winning baskets from Sands and Clifton. Reed also bagged two free throws with 4:47 to go in the game.
The Cougars took a 48-44 lead against North Georgia Christian. The game and the potential state title got away from the Chargers. North Georgia Christian also gave up two late field goals to Sands and Reed.
Lafayette Christian put the nail in the state title with a pair of Reed free throws with 33.2 seconds left.
“We got a little nervous (in the first half), but we know how to finish. We showed a lot of fight,” said Cougars Head Coach Jarred Pike.
He won the state championship in his first season as the Lafayette Christian head coach. Pike’s Cougars finished the season with 22 straight wins. And on this title-winning afternoon in Barnesville, Lafayette Christian took it to the next level with Sands, Benefield (six points), senior center Marcus Mobley (nine points, eight rebounds) and Jemi Reed (25 points, six rebounds, five assists).
Junior guard Gregory Benefield came to play as well for the Cougars. The 6-foot-1 Benefield pumped in seven points.
North Georgia Christian out of Flowery Branch ended its state run with a final record of 24-6. The Chargers had an empty kind of feeling after the game.
“This is the third time that we have lost in the state championship game. We played good defense. We were scrappy, and we showed some heart. We just didn’t shoot well enough to win,” said North Georgia Christian Head Coach David Roberts.
His Chargers still gave the Cougars all that they could handle with 17 points from sophomore guard Will Owens and 14 points from the 6-foot-5 Rettiger. Senior forward Davis Martin also scored eight points for North Georgia Christian.
Chris Fernsler Sports Writer