LaFayette has unfinished business in Birmingham.
Two years ago, the Bulldogs fell to Tanner in the Class 2A title game, but earned another shot to face the Rattlers after beating Francis Marion, 61-54, in Wednesday’s Central Regional final at Alabama State.
“If you couldn’t possibly be more motivated than we are right now,” LaFayette coach Obadiah Threadgill IV said. “We try not to make it personal with these teams. Everybody has players. Everybody wants to win championships.”
LaFayette (23-5) will play Tanner (13-13) in the Final Four on Monday.
“We have so much unfinished business,” Threadgill IV said. “So many things we want to achieve this year.”
Jatarvious Whitlow scored a game-high 29 points in leading the Bulldogs past the Rams (22-7). The tournament MVP scored 18 points in the first half in 11 minutes.
“I knew I had to do it for my team,” Whitlow said. “Glory to God. He gave it to me so I had to show off for him.”
Whitlow took a hard foul early in the second half and left the game with a head injury. With Whitlow on the bench, the Rams took a 35-34 lead.
Returning to the game with three minutes, 36 seconds left in the third quarter, Whitlow scored nine more points in the second half that included a basket to put LaFayette up for good, 47-45, in the fourth.
“I knew he was going to get himself back together,” Threadgill IV said. “He’s taken more hits than that in practice. So we knew he was going to be able to come back and give us just what he did. Ball handling, shooting, scoring, free throws, passing. He does everything.”
Whitlow’s basket started an 8-0 run for the Bulldogs, who put the game away by making six straight free throws late in the fourth quarter. In contrast, Francis Marion went 2-of-6 from the line in the second half. For the game, the Rams connected on just 4-of-11 free throws.
“Free throws definitely bit us,” Francis Marion coach Johnny McCalpine Jr., said. “That definitely hurt. If we make all of those, we’re right where we need to be.”
Senior Arthur Johnson paced Francis Marion with 25 points.
“I think for the most part, we played the way we wanted to play,” McCalpine Jr. said. “We just had a couple of miscues right there in crunch time. Kind of cost us, but we live to fight another day. We’re going to keep working. Hopefully we’ll get back to this point.”