CHATSWORTH, Ga. - If the LaFayette Ramblers were feeling the pressure of ending a 12-year streak of not making the Georgia state basketball playoffs, it sure didn't show during Wednesday night's Region 7-AAA boys' quarterfinal game against Pickens County.
LaFayette (19-4) trailed once, 2-0, then used its trademark full-court pressure, a strong showing from the bench and a relentless rebounding effort to win going away, 58-31. The Ramblers will face B subregion top seed Allatoona in one of Friday's semifinals. The Buccaneers (22-4) ended Ringgold's season in Wednesday's late game, 60-37.
The other semifinal Friday will feature Dalton, a 68-52 winner over Cedartown, and Cartersville, coached by former Dalton coach Dennis Godfrey, whose team eliminated Ridgeland, 66-50, in Wednesday's first game.
For LaFayette, a 13-2 run to end the first half was more than enough to dispatch the Dragons (13-14). The Ramblers' press created 15 first-half turnovers and helped key the final run. Post Lance Estus, all 6-foot-1 of him, began the run with a driving layup and ended it with a rare 3-pointer as the half expired for a 24-13 lead.
"I caught it and saw the clock running down and thought I had to shoot it," smiled Estus, a sophomore who had a game-high 17 points and 11 rebounds. "Luckily it went in. This game means a lot because our seniors have done so much for the community and they've only been three times in 21 years."
The Rambler rebounding was the difference in the third period. A 12-3 edge against the taller Dragons gave LaFayette numerous second and third shots. A Jarrod Beamon putback and Devarus Porter subsequent steal and layup pushed the lead to 33-15 four minutes into the second half and seemingly took what little air was left out of the Pickens players.
"We had 12 guys that all played, and we wanted to play full court, harass them and wear them down and make them make mistakes," LaFayette coach Tommy Swanson said. "We did just that and we were able to get past them defensively. And our bench gave us great minutes tonight. They came in and gave us a lot of energy, and we need that due to our lack of size.
"I'm very proud of this team. It's the first time we've made the state tournament since 1999, so this is a big deal."
Teems added 11 points for the Ramblers, who put had nine players score, while Spencer Jones led Pickens with 10. Post Sam Crawford, the team's leading scorer, was held to six points.