LaFAYETTE, Ga. -- The recipe was ripe for disaster at LaFayette High School. The Ramblers were hosting Walker County rival Ridgeland on Senior Night with a top-two region finish on the line. It was enough to make LaFayette coach Tommy Swanson a little irritable during the day.
Turns out, he needn't have worried. Devarus Porter took care of things early. The senior guard had seven steals and scored 14 of his game-high 21 points in the first half as the Ramblers (18-3, 8-1) built a huge lead and hung on to beat the Panthers, 66-58. The win guarantees LaFayette of at least a No. 2 seed out of subregion 7A-AAA, and with a win Tuesday at Dalton the Ramblers would earn the top seed at the region tournament in two weeks.
It also avenges the team's only region loss of the season.
"This game is huge because we thought we should have beaten them at their place," Porter said. "Also, it guarantees us a bye in the region tournament and we'll be one win away from getting into the state tournament. That's what we want. We haven't had a state tournament game here in a while, so it will be big for this community."
A Gannon Harris jumper with six minutes to go in the first half lifted Ridgeland (11-11, 5-4) to within two at 19-17, but a Lance Estus putback started an 18-2 run to end the half. The cat-quick Porter stole the show during the run, scoring eight consecutive points, including three consecutive steals and layups. He ended the run with a drive-and-dish pass to Estus for a layup just before the halftime buzzer with LaFayette comfortably ahead 37-21.
"Defensively, we really got after them and we got some points off of it," said Swanson, whose team had nine steals and caused 12 Ridgeland turnovers in the opening half. "We came out and played a lot of zone, but we played it with a lot of intensity. We got a lot of tipped balls that led to transition points for us. Devarus had seven steals and a lot of those were off tipped balls by someone else. We needed that quick start, even more than we thought we would in the fourth period."
Ridgeland tried to rally in the final period, using its own trapping press to create seven turnovers. A Charles Forte layup cut the lead to nine with 1:09 to play, but five Jarrod Beamon free throws down the stretch put any comeback hopes out of reach. Beamon finished with 13 points and six rebounds, while Trea Covington had nine boards and six blocks and Estus a team-high 11 rebounds.
Vonn Bell had 13 points , Darrell Bridges had 12 and Harris amassed 11 points and 14 rebounds for the Panthers.
"These seniors have meant a lot to this program," said Swanson in praise of his seven seniors. "They've gone 54-17 over the last three years, and we've only lost three home games during that time. They've led us the whole time, and we'll miss them when they're gone."
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...