After all, it’s pretty apparent that Gordon Lee High School owns it.
The school’s wrestling team captured their second straight Class 1A State Duals championship there to begin 2013, and they returned a month later to win the State Traditional title.
Gordon Lee’s latest conquest in the Heart of Georgia came this past Thursday when the Lady Trojans captured the Class 1A public school state basketball title with a 61-56 win over highly-regarded Randolph-Clay.
Add the Class 1A public school state softball title from back in late October, and Gordon Lee has now won a remarkable four state team championships in this school year alone.
Thursday’s win likely came as a shock to many around the state. Randolph-Clay, a basketball power with two past state titles to their credit, entered the contest on a 19-game winning streak, having won their three previous state tournament games by an average of almost 30 points each.
In the days leading up to the title game, many were predicting another blowout for the Lady Red Devils. Some said the championship game wouldn’t even be close. Others felt Gordon Lee should be nervous at the prospects of facing the athletic, tall, and talented team from Cuthbert.
But those of us who have been following Gordon Lee girls’ basketball for a long time now knew better.
The Lady Trojans entered the title game not only battle-tested, but battle-proven. They played all season long in arguably the toughest Class 1A region in the state, and they more than held their own against bigger schools this season, such as Class 2A Bremen, Class 3A state finalist Dawson County, and Region 7-AAAA runner-up Northwest Whitfield, whom the Lady Trojans defeated three times this season.
“Like we told them before the game, there was nothing (Randolph-Clay) could do to us that we hadn't already seen at some point during the summer or during the regular season,” Gordon Lee head coach Lester Galyon explained. “I said ‘just go out and play’ and they responded.”
Boy did they ever.
The Lady Trojans jumped out to a 17-8 lead after one quarter and extended it to 36-19 at halftime. Gordon Lee used another third-quarter run to stretch out their advantage to 50-31 to start the fourth quarter.
“Some people who may have not seen us play before, may have thought us getting out to such a fast start was a fluke, but we've been doing that most of the year,” Galyon explained. “We've handled a lot of good scorers this year. We've also got a deep bench and we use it.”
To Randolph-Clay’s credit, they refused to roll over and die. They sliced the lead down to eight points with less than two minutes to play, but Gordon Lee’s veteran group kept their composure, hitting some late free throws to seal up the school’s first-ever state basketball championship.
“It feels great to be here and know that all the hard work we put into this season has finally paid off,” said senior Katie Barger, who helped carry the offense in the first half with 14 points. “We got our ultimate goal, a state championship, and it's a great feeling.”
Junior Katelyn Lee called it a dream come true.
“When I was little, I used to come watch Gordon Lee play and I wanted to play for them and hang a (championship) banner one day,” she said. “Just knowing we're the first ones out of all those other Gordon Lee teams to do it is very special.”
Senior Kalei Kimbrell, who knows a thing or two about what it takes to win state championships, said the experience of having won it all in softball paid major dividends.
“People expected us to win state in softball, but we were the underdogs in basketball so it was nice to prove everyone wrong,” she said. “It definitely helps when, like, half our softball team is on the basketball team. We expected there to be a lot of tension and jitters because we felt them (during the state softball finals), so I think having been in that situation before helped everyone else calm down a little. We knew we could block out everything else and just play our game."
Players and coaches also gave credit to their fans, including a loud and raucous student section, who made the long drive to Macon to help spur the Lady Trojans to victory.
"I looked up and thought we were playing a home game,” Galyon said. “We had almost as many fans in the stands there as we usually have at a home game, and that was just awesome. Our students, fans, and even the ones who don't have children or relatives playing or some other vested interest, they all really support our school.”
While it was a banner day for the Lady Trojans, it was also a banner day for all those who had a hand in getting the Navy-and-White to the top of the state basketball mountain.
It was a win for all the great players who came before that put Gordon Lee on the state basketball map. It was a win for the parents and others who held practices and taught the game to the young Lady Trojans years earlier. It was a win for Coach David Eason at Gordon Lee Middle School, who does such a fantastic job of grooming players for the high school level, and it was a win for Galyon and assistant coach Lee Bohannon for game planning and preparing their team for the biggest game in school history.
But most of all, it was a win for an outstanding group of young ladies that will forever be known as state champions.
As for Gordon Lee’s quintet of seniors — Barger, Kimbrell, Kassidy Blevins, Taylor Hartline, and Sara Clayton — it was only fitting that Thursday’s A-plus effort gave them an even 100 wins in their high school careers.
“Besides the day I got married and the birth of my three kids, this is the happiest day I could ever imagine,” said Bohannon. “The girls in that locker room are just a treat to be around, and they are quality people as well as quality basketball players. I love all of them.”
Scott Herpst is Sports Editor of the Walker County Messenger.