The all-important first Region 5-AAAA victory of the season seemed within reach for the Central High School boys' basketball team in its back-and-forth battle versus LaGrange at home on Tuesday night.
But a late surge by the Grangers thwarted those hopes for CHS as the visitors pulled ahead late for a 72-66 road win.
Central (8-5, 0-1 Region 5-AAAA) and LaGrange (10-4, 1-0) traded leads several times throughout the first half with one ballclub never being able to fully escape the reach of the other. A 9-0 run by the Lions at the end of the second quarter would boost them to a 31-27 lead heading into halftime.
CHS would start to get major production from two of its senior standouts in the third with forward Tyree Blocker wreaking havoc down low on the blocks, while guard Josh McClendon provided 10 points in the period alone. Despite those efforts, LaGrange still kept pace to eventually take a one-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Central opened the final period cruising, as an 8-3 run gave it a four-point advantage. But a sudden 9-1 run by the visiting Grangers suddenly put the Lions at a three-point deficit. A timely trey from LaGrange senior guard Daz Williams would give the road team all the cushion it needed to tame the Lions and walk out with a six-point win.
Central head coach Deion Sims liked his players' offensive approach to the ballgame, but cited the fourth quarter lapse as what ultimately sealed their fate.
"When we got out to that late lead, I thought we started to get confident and started to make some lackadaisical passes," Sims said. "That's what we stressed to the guys afterwards to just keep executing and keep moving the ball. When the ball was moving and we were getting it inside, we were scoring, so we just have to keep that up."
McClendon led for Central with 25 points, four rebounds and three assists, while Blocker had a big night down low with 14 points and nine boards. Feeding it to the powerful forward was the main initiative for the Lions heading into the ballgame.
"Our focal point was attacking the blocks, whether it'd be penetration or entry passes to our bigs. (Tuesday) Tyree Blocker stepped up to not only rebound, but finish around the rim," Sims said. "My guards in Jarrod Jackson, Dallas Clayton and Josh McClendon did an excellent job of just attacking those gaps and getting it inside."
Central will look to bounce back when it hosts Cartersville this Friday at 8:30 p.m.