The Region 6-AAA playoffs don't begin for another month, but fans were treated to a little taste of playoff intensity at Dan Priest Gymnasium on Friday night.
The No. 5-ranked LaFayette Ramblers took a few early punches from visiting LFO, but the Orange-and-Black would answer the bell and go on to a hard-fought 65-51 win over the Warriors in a matchup of two of the region's heavyweights.
The highly-anticipated battle between two clubs that each won region titles last season - LFO in 6-AAA and LaFayette in 6-AAAA - began with two early 3-pointers by Cameron Gregg and Brent Bowman. Bowman would add another triple late in the first quarter to give the Warriors a 19-11 lead.
Their advantage stayed at eight points, 25-17, going into a timeout with 5:13 left to play in the half. But coming out of the break, LaFayette ratcheted up the defense and begin chipping away at the lead.
Although the Ramblers' shots weren't necessarily falling in the first half, post players Aidan Hadaway and DeCameron Porter were there for put-backs on misses to get LaFayette back on track. The home team finished the half on a 12-3 run to take its first lead, 29-28, into the locker room.
LaFayette opened the third quarter by scoring nine straight points. A couple of a strong drives to the basket by point guard Jaylon Ramsey got the offense going and Hadaway punctuated the run with a slam to put his team up 38-28 with 3:30 remaining in the quarter.
LFO would try to slice into the Ramblers' lead in the latter stages of the third. Gregg came through with an old-fashioned 3-point play and then drained one from behind the arc with less than two minutes to go. Jamichael Davis followed up seconds later with a sneaky steal of an inbound pass by the Ramblers and quickly converted it into a basket that pulled the Warriors to within 44-39, with 20 just seconds left in the period.
But Junior Barber answered by knifed his way through the lane in the closing seconds, connecting on a finger roll off the glass to give LaFayette a 46-39 lead headed into the fourth and final quarter.
Zach Barrett buried a big 3-pointer from the corner a minute into the final stanza to push the Ramblers' lead back out to 10 points and the two teams would continue to exchange baskets for nearly five minutes until a 3-pointer by Bowman with 2:14 to play got the Warriors back to within seven points of the lead.
Porter would answer for LaFayette on a drive to the basket with 2:02 remaining, but a long three by Davis 20 seconds later chopped the gap down to 57-51 with 1:42 to play, keeping the Warriors within striking distance.
However, it would turn out to be the final basket of the night for the Red-and-White.
LaFayette would score the final eight points of the contest. Barber would hit four straight free throws to push the lead back out to 10 before Hadaway emphatically sealed the victory with a backboard-shaking, one-handed breakaway jam with 35 seconds left. The junior added two free throws with 15 seconds to go to provide the final margin of victory.
Hadaway led all scorers with 21 points for LaFayette, who remain undefeated at 7-0 overall and 4-0 in region play. Barber finished with 14 and Porter went for 13 and added a handful of blocked shots. Ramsey muscled his way for 10 points and Barrett added five.
Gregg and Davis had 12 points apiece for LFO (7-3, 5-2), followed by Bowman with 11. Amari Burnett ended his night with seven points. Dee Calhoun had five points, all in the first half, while Keenan Walker chipped in with two.
The two teams are scheduled to meet again on Friday, Feb. 5 in Fort Oglethorpe.
LaFayette girls 50, LFO 22
The Lady Ramblers bolted out to a big first-half lead against the short-handed Lady Warriors, who were missing a number of players due to injury.
LaTyah Barber had 21 points and eight steals as LaFayette improved to 5-2 overall in 2-2 in Region 6-AAA. Mykeria Johnson scored all 16 of her points in the first half, while Heather Tucker scored six points, grabbed four rebounds, collected three steals and showed tremendous hustle throughout the night. Three points from Haven Yancy and two each from Michaela Baker and Fanny Barber rounded out the scoring.
Zoey Gray-Martin scored 11 points for LFO (0-9, 0-6). Madison Stookey had three points, while Ziara Thompson, Presley Piatt, Kaile Richiez and Gracie Cochran each added two.
The Lady Ramblers will play a make-up game at Murray County on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. before returning home to face the same Lady Indian team again on Tuesday as part of a varsity doubleheader, starting at 6 p.m.
Meanwhile, LFO will play host to Chattanooga Notre Dame in non-region action on Tuesday night. The girls' game will kick off the action at 6 p.m.