By Zack Huffman
The future looks bright for the basketball programs of Lovejoy High School. Next year's freshman class will include members from both the boys' and girls' middle school county championship.
Four teams gathered in the Nest at Rex Mill High School Thursday for a pair of high stakes championship games. Lovejoy's Lady Cougars defeated the Rex Mill Lady Yellow Jackets, 31-19. The boys from Lovejoy continued the winning trend with a win against Roberts Middle School, 43-35.
When the final buzzer rang at the conclusion of the girls' match-up, Lovejoy coach Greg Shook slowly rose from chair. Rubbing his forehead with his left hand, Shook approached his triumphant squad.
Shook smiled. With the county championship trophy in his grasp, Shook simply smiled as the Lovejoy Lady Cougars crowded around, each eagerly reaching out to touch the trophy and taste the glory that came along with it.
Lovejoy's ladies made a strong opening statement to tip-off the game, scoring the first bucket from outside the perimeter.
The basket was the first of many for Amber Brown who led the Lady Cougars in scoring. Throughout the night she racked up a total of 10 points for the team.
Lovejoy managed run up 14 points before Rex Mill had the opportunity to score. From there, the Lady Yellow Jackets turned up the intensity on their defense, putting a halt to Lovejoy's offense.
Rex Mill continued with a nine-point run that was only ended by the halftime buzzer.
With just a four-point deficit, the Lady Yellow Jackets returned looking to tie up the game, but their aggressiveness came back to haunt them when repeated fouls cooled down their defense.
Lovejoy picked it up again, with an eight-point run. They controlled the game, maintaining a solid lead until the half ran out.
The boys endured a closer battle, with both The Lovejoy Cougars and The Roberts Rams trading shots to start off the game.
Height was a major advantage for Lovejoy, who controlled the inside game with the help of Travis Custin, JaMichael Ramos and Arshad Jackson.
Ramos led the scoring effort with 19 points.
Where Lovejoy had height, Roberts was able to counter with speed and shooting ability.
Alex Tas and Patrick Petty shared top scoring honors for the Rams, with 11 points a piece.
Petty excelled at the darted through the inside for layups, while Tas made long-distance shooting look easy with a trio of three-point shots that silently swooshed into the basket each time.
The Cougars took an early lead on the Rams, opening an eight-point spread before the end of the first half.
Once Lovejoy opened their lead, the two teams settled back and let the defense take over, trading rebounds for several minutes as the clock ticked down.
With seconds remaining before halftime, Tas hit his first shot from the outside, just in time to make it a five-point game as the buzzer rang.
Coming back from the break, Tas snuck back inside the paint for a layup.
Tas' second outside shot allowed the Rams to take their first lead of the game 28-27.
Unfortunately for Roberts, it did not last, when a shot from ShaMichael Jones retook the lead for Lovejoy.
From there, the Cougars opened the game further with their score fluctuating between a seven and nine-point lead.
When the final buzzer rang, Lovejoy was officially able to bring home a second championship trophy.
"This has been these guys goal from the very beginning," said Lovejoy coach Leon Dillard. "They fought hard through adversity. It feels great."