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Not to be for Dougherty

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

COLUMBUS -- Arabian Williams' eyes were red from tears, wet with pain. And he wasn't alone as he sat in a Dougherty locker room full of hurt, and disbelief.

It was over -- this magical run through the playoffs -- this leap at greatness that brought Dougherty together in ways these kids will never forget -- a run that shocked most of Georgia and brought a spotlight to Albany.

It didn't end until Dougherty had rewritten its own season, a season that was defined by the way these kids bonded, sharing the ball and the glory on a road no one thought they could walk down.

It didn't end until the GHSA Class AAA Elite Eight and the Trojans had given LaGrange, the top-ranked AAA team in the state, all it wanted before falling 59-51 in the frantic final minutes of the fourth quarter Saturday at Columbus State, where a large crowd from Albany showed up to see the final chapter of this inspiring season.

"I don't know what to say,'' said Williams, a senior and Herald Super 6er who had just played his last game at Dougherty. "This was a great season. Nobody thought we would get this far. I'm proud of my teammates. I love them.''

It's always like that when you prove everybody wrong.

"Nobody thought we would do anything,'' Williams said. "We didn't have anybody on our side, but us. Everything has to end. I guess it had to end (Saturday night).''

Dougherty pushed LaGrange (30-0) to the brink before falling, and even led early and hung tough late, before LaGrange finally took over in the final seconds. Freshman Josh Lewis, whose 3-pointer at the buzzer had knocked off fifth-ranked Liberty County on Tuesday, hit his second 3 of the night, a long-range rainbow that closed the gap to 51-49 with 1:19 left.

But LaGrange got a drive from Royal Thomas and then a steal and a drive from Dionte Mains, who finished off the and-one play for a 56-49 lead with 48 seconds left.

"We made some crucial mistakes at the end of the game,'' Lewis said. "We should have hustled more.''

That's a tough critic, because no one will ever accuse Dougherty of not hustling. The Trojans fly up and down the court for 32 minutes, and coach Donald Poole's team made it this far because all five (no matter which five) players on the court go hard at teams defensively.

Dougherty did everything but sprout wings Saturday, beating LaGrange up and down the court for most of the game, taking an early lead and holding on to a 30-27 advantage at halftime. And when Macarthur Gaines dunked in a 34-29 lead with 6:35 left in the third it looked like Dougherty would be the ones to beat the unbeaten Grangers.

"They are a great team,'' LaGrange coach Mike Pauley said of Dougherty. "They play so well together. Their teamwork really put us to the test. They are a really well-coached team.''

Gaines and Williams each scored 14, and Mains led LaGrange with 14 points -- all of them coming on drives to the basket. LaGrange also got 10 points from Jamius Gunsby, who scored all his points inside.

LaGrange couldn't stay with Dougherty's quick guards -- especially Williams and Gaines -- and won the game inside, scoring all of its points in the second half from in the paint or free throw line. The Grangers led, 44-42, going into the fourth quarter. But it was still a two-point game in the final seconds, even after Dougherty went cold in the fourth.

"At the end we had some shots that didn't fall," Poole said. "That's part of the game. We had some good looks, but they didn't fall. You've got to make those shots against good teams.''

Poole thanked everyone from his players to his principal to everyone who supported his team, which was 12-13 before beating Crisp in the consolation game of the Region 1-AAA tournament to start the remarkable run.

It didn't stop the pain.

"We came to win the game.,'' Poole said. "We didn't come to play close. We had (a great run). It's just something you're supposed to do, work hard and play hard and a lot of good things will happen.

"We had a good run, unfortunately, we wanted to win it all.''