After graduating nine seniors who had helped the program to over 90 wins in four seasons, some basketball fans in the northwest Georgia area were expecting a rebuilding year for the LaFayette Ramblers.
Instead, the new-look Ramblers have simply continued their winning ways.
The Orange-and-Black added to their growing trophy case on Monday night with a 67-57 comeback win over Northwest Whitfield to claim their second Region 6-AAAA tournament championship in the past three seasons.
LaFayette (22-2) will open the Class 4A state playoffs at home against Oconee County this Saturday night at 6 p.m.
"I'm very blessed and beyond proud of this group of guys," said LaFayette head coach Hank Peppers, who joined Dan Priest as the only Rambler coaches to guide their teams to multiple region basketball titles. "They have worked their tails off from Day 1.
"Coming into this season with a whole new starting five, a bench that had never dressed varsity and losing nine seniors from last year, most people didn't give us a chance. But we used that for motivation and we really try to play with a chip on our shoulder."
After beating the Bruins twice in the regular season, the Ramblers found themselves down 31-25 at halftime as Northwest looked to spoil the party. However, things would change dramatically in the third quarter.
The Ramblers went into lockdown mode on defense, while Aidan Hadaway and DeCameron Porter began to heat up on the offensive end. The duo combined for 12 points in the period as LaFayette outscored Northwest, 21-7, in a decisive third quarter that ended with the Ramblers up 46-38.
The two teams would exchange points in the fourth quarter, but Northwest would never get closer than eight points of lead the rest of the way as LaFayette held on for the victory.
Hadaway had 22 points and 14 rebounds. Porter scored 15 points and added to a monster night with 21 rebounds and seven blocked shots. Jaylon Ramsey had 14 points and seven assists. Junior Barber finished with 12 points and Asa Deal added four to complete the sweep of the region's regular season and tournament titles.
"We had so many guys step up huge (on Monday)," Peppers continued. "The way Jaylon came out attacking really set the tone for us early and DeCameron's rebounding and help-side defense was amazing. Aidan was tough on the boards also, especially on the offensive end, and Barber, who's just a sophomore, stepped up huge and made several big plays.
"This is such a special moment for these young men, all these fans that traveled here and the whole community of LaFayette. LaFayette is a special place and the way people rally behind our team is amazing."