LaFayette Ramblers

Halfway through the NGAC tournament finals on Thursday night, the LaFayette Ramblers - unbeaten in league play all season long - found themselves in a very unfamiliar place.

Behind.

A cold-shooting first half, mixed with inspired play by the Heritage Generals, led to the Ramblers going into the locker room at Trion Middle School trailing 19-13.

It was in that locker room that head coach Casey Brown asked his team a history question.

"I just asked them if they wanted to be remembered as a team that went undefeated (13-0) in league play, got to the (NGAC tournament) finals, but ended up losing," he explained.

Apparently, the Ramblers did not.

LaFayette came out firing on all cylinders in the second half and turned the six-point deficit into an eventual 49-42 tournament championship victory for the Orange-and-Black.

"In a tournament like this, even being down by just six points (at halftime) can feel like being down by 30," Brown said. "You go into halftime thinking to yourself that you know your guys can do this, but you have to make them think that they can do it just as much."

Heritage dominated play in the game's first three minutes as they jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead. Kaden Swope scored eight of those first 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers.

After a timeout, LaFayette would get a steal and a lay-up by Jaylon Ramsey to jump-start a 6-0 run of its own. But Marcus Fortson, who would score a tournament-best 65 points during the week-long event, would score the final four points of the quarter. The final bucket came on a Fortson breakaway lay-up with a second left on the clock and he would score 30 seconds into the second quarter to push the Generals' lead back to 10 points at 16-6.

Aidan Hadaway would keep the Ramblers within striking distance on a 3-pointer with 4:25 left in the half and four more points by Ramsey would chop the Heritage advantage down to three. But the Generals would hold LaFayette scoreless over the final 3:02 of the half and pushed its lead back to six at intermission.

The two teams would exchange a pair of baskets to start the third quarter and the Heritage lead would grow to 24-17 at the 4:00 mark when the Ramblers finally started heating up in a big way.

LaFayette would close out the third period on a 15-3 run, highlighted by two 3-pointers each from Hadaway and Ramsey, while Ramsey also added a tough two points on a runner in the lane through traffic. By the time the dust had settled on the quarter, the Ramblers' seven-point deficit was suddenly a five-point lead at 32-27.

The Ramblers would boost their lead even more on a 3-point play by Cade Fisher and a 3-pointer by Junior Barber with five minutes to play. Heritage would trim LaFayette's lead down to four on a basket by Collin Swearingin with 3:53 left, but Ramsey would simply take over in the game's latter stages.

The athletic guard would score four points at the free throw line and grab a big offensive rebound in the process. His driving lay-up with 1:32 to go, set up by a big block by Hadaway, pushed the Ramblers' lead back out to eight points and the Generals would never threaten again.

Ramsey finished the game with 28 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and a block, while also playing lockdown defense all game long. He was later named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.

"Jaylon is a ball player," Brown said. "Once he gets into the game, he doesn't want to be selfish. But I told him that if he wanted to win this game, he was going to have to take it over and talk to the other guys and get them going because I knew they would listen to him."

Hadaway added 13 points, including three 3-pointers, to go with six rebounds. Barber, who appeared to twist an ankle in the first half, gutted out five points and four boards, while Fisher had three points and four rebounds.

Swope had a team-best 17 points for the Generals, while adding five rebounds. Swearingin and Fortson each chipped in with eight points, while Bryce Travillian added six points and lead the Generals with 11 rebounds.

"It feels great," Brown said of the win. "This is been a great team to work with all year. Even though we kept winning, we had our ups and downs throughout the season. Every team goes through things like that. This team battled through the flu and a few injuries, but the good Lord with just with us this year."