LaFayette Ramblers

No one is completely 100 percent sure when the last time it was that the LaFayette Lady Ramblers made the state basketball playoffs or if the Orange-and-Black had ever made it to the state tournament before.

But everybody now knows when that next, or possibly that historic appearance, is going to be.

The opponent is still unknown and the location is still unknown, but what is known is that the Lady Ramblers will be there when the Class AAAA state playoffs open up in a little less than two weeks' time.

After a slow start, fourth-seeded LaFayette found its game and rolled to a 59-25 victory over fifth-seeded Heritage in the opening round of the Region 6-AAAA tournament at Southeast Whitfield on Monday night. The victory put the Lady Ramblers into the region semifinals and guaranteed them a spot at state.

LaFayette (15-9) will face top-seeded Gilmer Thursday night at 7 p.m. with the winner advancing to Friday night's championship game (7 p.m.). The loser will play in the consolation game on Friday afternoon (4 p.m.).

"I've never had this opportunity before as a coach," said LaFayette head coach Holly Rhudy. "Back when I was a player, we went to state once in softball, but there's just something about it when it's the program that you played for and then you come back to coach it. We literally had to work from the ground up and I couldn't be more proud of this team."

Early on, the Lady Generals - last year's region champs - were threatening to pull the upset on the team that beat them twice in the regular season. Playing solid defense, boxing out and winning the battle of the boards, Heritage jumped out to a 7-0 lead halfway through the first quarter, forcing Rhudy to call a timeout to regroup.

The Lady Ramblers were finally able to break the ice on an 18-foot baseline jumper by Nicky Yancy coming out of the timeout, but they managed just three more points in the remainder of the period and trailed 9-5 after the first eight minutes play.

The next two quarters, however, would belong to LaFayette.

The Lady Ramblers would right the ship in a hurry as the second quarter began, opening with a 9-0 run to take the lead. Heather Tucker provided a spark off the bench with a pair of 3-pointers and Imani Cook also connected from long distance as the offense begin to heat up. LaFayette's defense also picked things up as they begin to control the boards and by the time the halftime horn sounded, the four-point deficit had become a 30-13 lead.

LaFayette put the game away for good in the third quarter, pushing the lead out to 20 midway through the period. A trey by LaTyah Barber with 50 seconds left in the quarter gave the Lady Ramblers an insurmountable 50-20 advantage.

"I asked them (after the first quarter) if this is how they really wanted to end their season and the girls just turned it around," Rhudy explained. "They mentally had to buy into it and when they did, we were fine."

Barber went for 17 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. Tucker finished the game with three 3-pointers and 11 total points, while Marquila Howell turned in a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double. Cook and Mykeria Johnson had eight points apiece with Cook pulling down eight boards. Yancy finished with four points and four steals, while Haven Yancy chipped in with one point. Savanna Hall helped out on the boards with seven.

Lauren Mock had seven points to lead the Lady Generals (7-19). Gracie Murray finished with six points and Sydnee St. John added five. Three by Riley Kokinda and two each from Katy Thompson and Brooke Matherly rounded out the scoring for the Navy-and-Red, whose season came to a close.

Rhudy said her team would enjoy its accomplishment, but only for a few hours longer as they get set to play a Gilmer team that bested them twice in the regular season. Gilmer controlled the first game in Ellijay back in December, 71-44, but LaFayette nearly pulled off the upset just over a week ago in south Walker County before falling, 42-36.

She added that playing the Lady Bobcats so close the last time would give her team a bit of a boost going into Thursday's semifinal.

"Now that we've got this first (tournament) game out of the way, because so much was weighing on this one, I think we can take that as a boost of confidence as well," Rhudy said. "We've got two more days of practice. We're not just playing to stay alive now, we're playing to see what we can do in this region tournament and see if we can finish at the top."

Northwest 60, Ridgeland 19

The news was not as good for the seventh-seeded Lady Panthers, who struggled against the region's second-seeded team in the final game on the first night of the tournament.

Katieann Thompson had six points for Ridgeland. Cordasia Watkins finished with five and Annabel Hill added four. Two points each from Kia Wade and Bree Ransom completed the scoring for the Lady Panthers, whose season came to a close with a 4-22 record.

Third-seeded Pickens won the night's other game, 70-53, against sixth-seeded Southeast. Pickens and Northwest will square off on Thursday (4 p.m.) in the other girls' semifinal.

The girls' championship game is slated for 7 p.m. on Friday, while the girls' third-place game is set to tip off at 4 p.m. that afternoon.

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

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