Late push not enough for LaFayette in Birmingham

Published 11:05 pm Monday, February 26, 2024

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The LaFayette Bulldogs saw their journey come to an end on Monday night as they fell to Highland Home 56-51 in the 2A Final Four at Legacy Arena in Birmingham. 

The first period put LaFayette in a hole that the Bulldogs could never fully claw back from. LaFayette came out of the gates ice cold, missing its first 12 shot attempts and trailing 8-0 heading into the second period. 

“First quarter got us in a hole,” LaFayette coach Chase Lewis said. “I think at the end of the day, once you get to this stage, you’ve got to adjust to it. I think after the first quarter, we were adjusting and we realized that it’s the same basketball, the same height of the rim and the same kind of court, and we got rolling a little better.” 

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The Flying Squadron’s size had a major effect on the Bulldogs early on in the game. On the first possession, Highland Home came away with five offensive rebounds and totaled 11 offensive boards in the first half. Highland Home outrebounded LaFayette 36-19 in the game. 

The Bulldogs’ season has been one of adversity, but LaFayette learned to fight hard with its back against the wall. That continued on Monday as LaFayette trailed by 13 with just over four minutes remaining.
Vaderrian “Tae” Story cut the lead to 11 as he found his way to the basket. Key’lun Powell cut Highland Home’s lead to nine with 2:42 remaining on a three-pointer. Deaundra Vines drew LaFayette within five with 1:20 left, but Jakaleb Faulk was able to ice the game for the Flying Squadron as he scored four points within the final minute of action. Faulk had a game-high 24 points and 10 rebounds. 

“We just kept trying to apply a little bit more pressure … and [we were] talking about just making sure that we capitalize on the offensive end,” Lewis said. 

“Guys stay composed. That’s us. We’re just going to be composed. While everyone else is freaking out and going crazy, this team is going to stay composed. We are a real family. We know we’re not going to let each other down. This is the team of adversity. At the very end, we’re still going to fight.” 

The journey LaFayette took to get to the semifinals seems impossible to most outside of the program. The Bulldogs lost two seniors before the season started and had to call on freshmen and other young guys to step up and play major minutes. 

The losses before the season were even more glaring when the team compiled injuries throughout the season, but the Bulldogs’ energy never wavered. 

“It was a tough journey,” Story said. “I love it, but we couldn’t finish the way we wanted to. It’s been a long journey.” 

Powell came off the bench for the Bulldogs and had one of the best games of his career. Powell’s role has changed throughout the season, but he was LaFayette’s best scorer on Monday and ignited the Bulldogs on defense. Powell finished with 15 points in the game. 

“It was mainly win or go home at that point,” Powell said. “Just playing with straight heart, intensity [and] doing what you have to do. I couldn’t let my brothers down. I tried to carry that on my back [and] help as much as I could.” 

Story followed Powell with 13 points while Vines added 11 points. Branaviyun “Bebe” Story added nine points and seven rebounds. 

Monday ended the high school playing career of six seniors. Those six have meant a lot to Lewis as they helped get him to his first final four as a head coach. Beyond just the production, the seniors have been the building blocks of LaFayette’s program and their leadership will be tough to replace next season. 

“I just told them in the locker room, the basketball stuff, and I think every coach should look at it like this, the basketball stuff is for these kids,” Lewis said. 

“I’m just going to miss hanging out with them after school every day. That’s what I’m going to miss more than anything. I’m going to miss them.” 

Most of the seniors on this team were around when Lewis became LaFayette’s coach three seasons ago. Throughout the process, the group has built a bond like no other. 

“I’m going to miss the brotherhood,” Vaderrian said. 

Branaviyun added that he would miss “The laughter. Teamwork, being with each other at dinner, making fun of each other. Just being close.” 

It was the offense that sank LaFayette on Monday as the Bulldogs shot just 28% from the field. LaFayette’s defense kept it close as the Bulldogs forced 18 turnovers. 

LaFayette finishes the season with a 24-8 record. The Bulldogs will look to build around young players like Jayden Thomason and Cameron Thomas next season.