LaFayette and Lanett rivalry comes with high stakes on the hardwood

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, January 3, 2024

There is nothing better than a rivalry game whether it be on the football field or on the hardwood. Few rivalries are as significant as LaFayette and Lanett’s rivalry on the hardwood. 

LaFayette and Lanett’s rivalry means a lot to the players and to the county, but it is also a rivalry that means a lot for overall postseason standing. The Bulldogs and Panthers compete in 2A-Area 6. Last season, the region championship came down to the final matchup between the two teams as Lanett won the game 57-51. 

Both coaching staffs are not ones to downplay the importance of a rivalry game, but they also know that a win to start area play is more important. 

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“It’s an area game most importantly,” LaFayette coach Chase Lewis said. “The importance is this team is in my area. Since they’re in my area, I’m 100% dialed in in terms of what we need to take care of. Everything else on the outside of it being an area team I’m not concerned with. It’s just the fact that I know that this is a really good team, and they’ve been the area champion in our area for the past three years.” 

The matchup on Friday is the first of two regular season games between the two teams. Last season, the Bulldogs beat the Panthers for the first time since 2020 in the first matchup at home. Lanett won the next two matchups to win the area championship. 

The rivalry this season sets up to be different than most matchups between the two teams. LaFayette currently has a 9-4 record, with a matchup on Wednesday against Tallassee, and the Bulldogs are currently the no. 1 ranked team in 2A. 

Lanett on the other hand has struggled at times this season as the Panthers have played higher classifications all season. 

Despite the ranking and the current record of each team, LaFayette is not underestimating their counterparts. 

“We watch a lot of film, so we know not to underestimate them,” Lewis said. “They’re a very good team. They’re a little young, but they all have a lot of experience.” 

In a rivalry game, it often does not matter which team brings more talent to the court. Both teams have talented players, but each coach also knows that the other team is going to put their best foot forward with the eyes of the county watching. 

A rivalry of this magnitude is an opportunity for players on both sides to put their names in the history books. 

“When it comes to playing us, I know they’re going to play their best game,” Lewis said. “This is going to be their Super Bowl, their World Series, their NBA championship. I know they play their best when they play us. I don’t think they’re underdogs in this match. I don’t think we’re the underdogs either, but I think it’s a perfectly even match.” 

Some key players to watch for LaFayette in the matchup are Deaundra Vines, Tae Story and Branaviyun Story. The three are the most experienced players on the team, and Lewis counts on them to make plays. 

A few key players for Lanett are Shamar Patterson, Nakia Bynum and Jeremiah McGilberry. Patterson, while just being a sophomore, is the leader for the Panthers on offense. Bynum is the most experienced player on the team, and McGilberry provides size in the paint for Lanett. 

“I think it’s probably been just as exciting in basketball as it has in football when it comes to this rivalry,” Lewis said. 

So far in the rivalry, Tay McCants and Lanett have had Lewis’ number. McCants is 5-1 against Lewis in the three seasons that Lewis has been the head coach at LaFayette. 

Lewis is hoping to narrow the margin in the rivalry this season, but he also has a lot of respect for McCants as a coach. 

“I have a good relationship with coach,” Lewis said. “I actually think he’s a very good coach. I love how he brings a mentality to his kids. They feed off his energy.” 

Lanett is coming off a thrilling win over Pike Road before taking an extended break before the holidays. 

LaFayette is building off of a tournament at Plainview. Just like over the summer, the tournament in Plainview served as a chance for the Bulldogs to spend extra time with each other and bond. Coming off the break, Lewis hopes to see the team improve its shooting percentage. 

Many around the state believe that this LaFayette team could be special, and Lewis agrees with them. While very talented, Lewis does not believe that is the biggest strength for the Bulldogs. 

“I think we’re the team of adversity,” Lewis said. “That’s what I love about this team. This team right here is one of the teams that, when I’m done coaching 20-30 years from now, I’ll never forget. This team has faced so much adversity this year.” 

Both McCants and Lewis are fairly new to the rivalry. McCants is a Valley High School alum while Lewis is originally from Indiana. 

The players on each side are not new to the rivalry, and it means the world to them. Lanett has had its way in the rivalry over the past few seasons, but LaFayette looks at this game as a chance to earn respect and further their goals. 

“They want to beat Lanett because we’re tired of being the afterthought around this area,” Lewis said. “We kind of don’t get our just due like most do. Our kids, since they’re listening to me, they’re looking at this as an area game. We want to go somewhere, but we can’t get there unless we go through Lanett.” 

No matter which team comes out on top, the matchup on Friday in Lanett will decide a lot about the trajectory of each team.