LFO Warriors

The New York Yankees snapped an 18-year dry spell by winning the World Series, Bill Clinton had just been elected to his second term as President and the world had just been introduced the phenomenom that became Pokemon.

The year was 1996 and it also marked the last time that the LFO boys' basketball team had hoisted a region championship trophy.

So it's completely understandable that the celebration inside the North Murray High School Arena on Monday night lingered for a little while after the final buzzer had sounded.

For the first time in nearly a quarter-century, LFO reached the top of the region mountain after the second-seeded Warriors posted a wire-to-wire 58-47 victory over the top-seeded Mountaineers in the 6-AAA finals.

Players, fans and students, along with coaches, faculty members and their families, whooped it up on the floor before photos, hugs, handshakes and even a few happy tears capped the night.

"This was a goal we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year," said head coach Josh Laney. "I know every team (sets that goal) every season, but you get to a point where you're not exactly sure if you'll ever reach it. I know our guys we're talking about it all weekend. They were worried on Saturday with the game getting canceled (because of snow) because they just wanted another shot at this opportunity and this team.

"They came out focused tonight. I could tell they were nervous before the game and I was too, but they put it all out there on the line and I was so proud of them."

After losing to the Mountaineers by three points in Fort Oglethorpe in mid-December, and following a 20-point blowout loss in Chatsworth back on Jan. 21, the Warriors served notice early on that things would be different this time around.

Senior Jacob King hit two 3-pointers in the first three minutes as LFO built a quick 8-0 lead. Brent Bowman would drop in nine points in the first quarter and big man Zac Coots would hit one from long range as the Warriors led 20-8 after the first quarter.

The two teams would play even in the second period, but the Warriors would never allow their lead to dip under eight points and a large contingent of LFO fans would rise to their feet as the Red-and-White jogged to the locker room with a 27-15 lead at intermission.

A trey by Cameron Gregg, followed by a driving spin move in the lane by King, gave LFO its biggest lead of the game, 34-17, with 3:20 left in the third quarter and the Warriors would eventually take a 13-point lead into the final eight minutes.

The Mountaineers would try to mount a rally in the fourth. They cut the gap down to 10 points twice and they would eventually trim LFO's lead to 49-41 with 2:30 remaining as the North Murray supporters did their best to will their team to a comeback victory.

But the Warriors refused to let it happen. LFO broke North Murray's press and got the ball inside to Coots for an easy basket and King would later find Bowman for a transition lay-up before blocking a shot at the other end to push the lead back out to double digits with just over a minute to play as the celebration began in the stands and on the LFO bench.

"They worried us for a while," Laney added. "(North Murray) Coach (Tim) Ellis threw the run-and-jump at us (to start the game). They were having some success with it and it kind of flustered us. It took us a minute to get adjusted, but we finally did. We got a couple (of baskets) and we were able to keep it spaced out. I'm just incredibly proud of our guys for adjusting during the game and for our defense, too. That was the lowest amount of points we held them to in any of the times we played them this season."

Bowman added 10 more points in the fourth quarter to finish with a game-high 21. King, the team's emotional leader on the night, finished with 18 points and controlled the game on both ends of the floor. Coots had eight points, including a pair of threes, while five points by Gregg, three by Amari Burnett, two from Jamichael Davis and one from Robbie Henry rounded out the scoring.

Ladd McConkey had 17 points to lead the effort for North Murray.

LFO (23-4) has drawn a tough assignment for its opening-round Class 3A state playoff game as sixth-ranked Hart County (22-6) will come to Fort Oglethorpe for a 7 p.m. tip on Saturday night. The Bulldogs were upset twice in the Region 8 tournament to be relegated to a No. 4 seed.

"Hart County will be a good test from what I've seen," Laney said. "But we're going to enjoy tonight and then get back to work and take it one day at a time."

Scott Herpst is sports editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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