COLUMBUS - A strong closing stretch helped the LaGrange Grangers avoid an 0-2 start in region play.
The Grangers found themselves locked in a tight game with a vastly-improved Columbus squad Wednesday night.
Columbus won just four games last season, but it came into Wednesday’s showdown with a 6-5 record.
As the clocked ticked under two minutes in Wednesday’s game, the Grangers were clinging to a one-point lead over the home-standing Blue Devils.
The Grangers closed the game on a 5-0 run, though, to escape with a 53-47 victory.
The Grangers improved to 7-5 overall, and they evened their Region 5-AAAA record at 1-1 after falling to Shaw in overtime on Friday.
It was an important win for the Grangers, who have tough games with Alexander and Fayette County coming up this weekend.
“We know we have to steal one or two on the road, and they probably need to come from Shaw, Columbus, Troup,” LaGrange coach Mike Pauley said. “The other teams right now are a little bit ahead of us. That’s just the reality of it.”
Derieko Smith, who had eight points in the first quarter, paced the Grangers with 14 points, and he was the only LaGrange player in double figures.
Danterrius Bray had three 3-pointers to finish with nine points, and LaPerion Perry added eight points.
The Blue Devils made things tough on the Grangers.
Columbus had a one-point lead early in the fourth quarter, and the game was tied with less than four minutes remaining.
Bray drained a 3-pointer with 3:13 left in the game to give the Grangers a three-point lead, and they didn’t trail again.
“It was a good game, and we knew it would be a good game,” Pauley said.
The Grangers charged out to a 19-10 lead after the first quarter, with Bray hitting a 3-pointer at the close of the period to extend the lead to nine.
The Grangers built their lead to 13 with five minutes left in the half, but the Blue Devils weren’t going away.
Columbus closed the first half on a 13-5 run to cut LaGrange’s lead to 32-27.
The Blue Devils then started the third quarter on a 7-0 run, with Karl Ivey’s 3-pointer giving the home team a 34-32 lead less than 90 seconds into the second half.
The Blue Devils only scored two points the rest of the quarter, though, and 3-pointers by Bray and Jerry Gerndt allowed LaGrange to take a 39-36 lead into the final quarter.
Columbus scored the first four points of the fourth period, with James Traylor’s dunk giving his team a 40-39 lead with seven minutes left in the game.
Dy Dunlap then gave LaGrange a lift.
Dunlap hit a 3-pointer with 6:30 remaining to give LaGrange a 42-40 lead, and 20 seconds later, he made a nice pass to Gerndt, who converted a layup to push the lead to 44-40.
The Blue Devils weren’t done.
They evened the score at 45-45 with 3:35 left to play on a basket by Jaquan Mason.
Bray then knocked down a clutch 3-pointer, and the Grangers had the lead, this time for good.
LaGrange made six-of-eight attempts from the free-throw line in the fourth period to secure the win.
“We shot free throws way better, especially late,” Pauley said.
LaGrange will visit Alexander on Friday before hosting Fayette County on Saturday.