It's nearly a two-hour drive from LaFayette High School to Whitwell High School, but the Ramblers appear to feel right at home in the unfamiliar surroundings of the Tigers' gymnasium.
The Ramblers hit 13 three-pointers as a team and connected on 10-of-14 free throw attempts as they pulled away from Sequatchie County, 81-58, in a boys' semifinal matchup at the Whitwell Christmas Tournament on Friday night.
The Ramblers made six of their first seven shots, including four from behind the arc. Jon Morgan had two of those shots and also threw down a breakaway dunk as LaFayette stormed out to an early 17-4 lead.
But the scrappy Indians from nearby Dunlap began to chip away at the deficit. They got the lead down to eight points by the end of the first quarter and used another run at the start of the second quarter to pull within two, 32-30, forcing LaFayette head coach Hank Peppers to call a timeout with just under five minutes left in the half.
However, the strategy worked as the brief stoppage of play seem to kill the Indians' momentum and revitalize the Ramblers, who answered the bell with another 17-4 run to end the period. Alex Kelehear punctuated the spurt with a 3-pointer at the buzzer, giving his team a 50-34 lead at intermission.
The Ramblers pushed their lead out to 19 points early in the third quarter before Sequatchie County would drain four 3-pointers to slice the gap back to 10 points. But Morgan would hit another buzzer-beating 3-pointer to put LaFayette back in front, 64-50, and the Orange-and-Black would take control for good in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Indians, 17-8.
Kelehear, the junior guard, had 24 points to lead all scorers and collected a piece of history late in the game as he hit a pair of free throws to put him over 1,000 points for his stellar career. He also finished the night with eight rebounds and had six of his team's 3-pointers.
The Ramblers called a timeout after his first free throw to acknowledge the achievement and were able to secure the game ball from tournament organizers. Kelehear got a standing ovation from his teammates as he walked towards the bench.
"I didn't even know about it until they told me as I was about to hit the free throws," Kelehear said with a laugh. "I was just going to try to dribble out the clock and suddenly they're telling me to shoot and I didn't know why. Once I found out, I just tried to stay calm at the foul line, although my knees were knocking a little bit. But after I hit that first one, I was fine."
"Alex puts in so much hard work," said Peppers. "He never takes a day off in practice or in the off-season. He's earned everything he's gotten and I'm very proud of him. He's a great player and a great teammate and it couldn't have happened to a better kid."
Dee Southern had 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Andrew Pendergrass had 15 points and hit four 3-pointers. Morgan finished with 14 points and accounted for LaFayette's other three long range shots.
Nolan Belk had 19 points for Sequatchie County.
LaFayette (12-1) will play in the championship game at 7:30 p.m. Central time on Saturday against fellow north Georgia resident Ringgold, who outlasted East Ridge, 63-52, in a physical battle Friday night.