LaFayette prepared for regional final against Gaston

Published 10:19 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2024

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The LaFayette Bulldogs are just three wins away from a state championship, but first needs to be ready to overcome a major test against Gaston on Wednesday in the Northeast Regional final. 

Both LaFayette and Gaston overcame adversity in their matchups in the regional semifinal on Friday. LaFayette overcame a seven-point halftime deficit and beat Section while Gaston overcame the same deficit to beat North Sand Mountain. 

“Momentum-wise, I think it’s going to be good because we both know that the game is not over until the end,” LaFayette coach Chase Lewis said. “I think we both came out a little jittery and a little nervous. Once the nerves went away, I think we both played a little more to our potential. When I watch them on film, more of how they played in the second half is exactly who they are.” 

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Lewis and the rest of the Bulldogs are more familiar with Gaston beyond just what they witnessed at Jacksonville State on Friday. 

Had Gaston not won their area, the Bulldogs would have hosted Gaston in the sub-regional. With that in mind, Lewis and the rest of the coaching staff have kept an eye on Gaston for the past month. 

One thing that has been evident is Mica Merriman’s impact on the offense. Merriman scored 27 points against North Sand Mountain, and at times he seemed to just take the game over. LaFayette is prepared to focus a lot of their defensive game plan around limiting Merriman. 

Merriman has the ability to drive or shoot the basketball, and he is adept at getting to the charity stripe. Merriman connected on nine of his 10 foul shots on Friday against North Sand Mountain. Merriman also stands at six-foot-four, which will create some matchup nightmares for LaFayette. 

“He does just about everything well,” Lewis said. “He can read the floor very well, and that’s one of the most important keys I’ve noticed about him. For him to be so tall, we like to trap, we have to be conscious of how we trap him. We also have to be conscious … of making sure you’re covering the floor because he’ll find his guys.” 

One advantage that Gaston brings into the matchup against LaFayette is size. Gaston has three players in their starting lineup that stand at six-foot-two or taller. 

The Bulldogs tend to play smaller lineups with several guards on the floor. Players like Jayden Thomason and Branaviyun “Bebe” Story bring the most for LaFayette and will have to play a pivotal role in the matchup on Wednesday. 

“Their size can be a strength and a weakness for them against us,” Lewis said. “We want to just make sure that we just play team basketball together on the defensive end. It’s not just one guy versus another guy, we’re going to help out. Just make sure we’re helping out and keeping our hands up because they’re so much bigger than we are.” 

A large part of what Gaston does hinges on Merriman’s playmaking ability, but there are several other players that will impact the game on Wednesday. 

Kodie Bogle serves as a major scoring threat, and he has shown the ability to defend the perimeter. Bogle scored 16 points against North Sand Mountain. 

Devon Green starts down low for Gaston. Green stands at six-foot-five and serves as the team’s anchor. Green got into foul trouble early against North Sand Mountain, but LaFayette is not underestimating the impact Green can have on Wednesday. 

“We didn’t get to see much of him, but on film, he poses a huge threat to us,” Lewis said about Green. “We have to just make sure that we know where he’s at at all times as far as keeping them off the glass. 32 (Kodie Bogle) is a scrappy player and works hard at getting rebounds. This team is very talented in the right spots.”

The matchup between the head coaches will be another fun one to watch on Wednesday. Gaston coach Michael Merriman is one of the more energetic and passionate coaches in Alabama. Merriman sports a bleach-blonde haircut after dying it for the team making regionals, but his intensity on the sideline is even louder than his hair. 

Lewis brings his own form of passion to LaFayette. Lewis is one of a few high school coaches in the state who still sports the classic suit look on the sideline, and his relationship with each of his players is something that few coaches in the state can replicate. 

“I enjoy watching the energy he puts into that program,” Lewis said about Merriman. “Watching him pour into his kids is a good thing, and I think he’s doing a great job with that. It’s good to see somebody match my energy for my kids. He probably does it a little more openly or entertaining than I would, but I like the fact that he pours into the kids. I like to think that people see that with me and my boys.” 

This will be Lewis’ third time in the regional final as a head coach, but this will be his players’ first time in this scenario. Being inexperienced in games of this magnitude, some players shrink under the pressure. 

However, Lewis believes that this team is different this season, and the pressure should not have as much of an effect as people might think. 

“I say it all the time, we’re the team of adversity,” Lewis said. “Adversity struck Friday night with us as far as the first half. I walked into the locker room and saw the calmness on them, and they were attentive in the calmness. I was like ok, we’re fine.” 

Over the course of the season, Gaston has mostly run a man defense. At times, Gaston has also switched to a 3-2 and 1-3-1 defense. 

With LaFayette’s speed, man defense could give the Bulldogs some major opportunities on offense, but Lewis also expects to see some changes in Gaston’s defense in the matchup on Wednesday. 

Last week, Lewis tabbed Vaderrian “Tae” Story as the X-factor and he delivered. This week, Lewis expects Branaviyun Story to be the key, but he also expects Vaderrian and Deaundra Vines to have big games. 

“I think Bebe Story is going to step up and be a big contributor,” Lewis said. “I look for Tae and Dra to continue to be Tae and Dra, be our leaders, be our floor generals, communicate on the floor to the younger guys, keeping everybody composed and playing their game to the best of their ability. I think Bebe Story can be a major X-factor to this game.” 

The LaFayette Bulldogs will face the Gaston Bulldogs on Wednesday in the Northeast Regional final. Tipoff is set for 4:15 PM ET. With a win, LaFayette will advance to the state semifinals.