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Looking to regain its groove, Sparta drops opening-round game at own tournament


With Jacob Lafferty and his Sparta teammates still feeling the effects of a COVID outbreak at school earlier this month, the Trojans are headed to consolation play at the Sparta Tournament.

Sparta suffered a 41-33 opening-round setback at the hands of Gainesville on Tuesday.

It was the Trojans’ fourth game of the new year and only their second over a 20-day period due to COVID. 

“COVID knocked us off our groove,” said Lafferty, who was one of two Sparta starters who endured a bout of COVID this month. “We were doing really good before this COVID thing hit us. We’ve started going downhill. We’re still good together, but we’re not feeling us. Once we get back to who we are, we’re going to be back to being better.”

Lafferty is still working on improving his conditioning, after missing more than a week of practices.

“It made me tired all the time. I slept all day,” he said of the effects COVID had on him. “It got me out of shape.”

Sparta (8-6) jumped out to a 12-6 lead on Gainesville, only to see the Bulldogs (12-5) reel off 14 straight points. The Trojans were scoreless for the first six minutes of the second quarter and managed a mere 11 points over the second and third quarters, while being outscored 23-11.

“We turned it over a lot,” Link said. “We broke down for a little bit. Coach (Derec Link) said our focus, enthusiasm energy needs to be better. We weren’t really focused.”

“We’ve got to fight to find our flow again, to regain our momentum and confidence,” Link said. “Obviously, our break didn’t help. But we’ve got to find a way to keep moving on.

“(We need) connectivity. In band, if you have people marching to different beats, it doesn’t sound as good. But if you’re all on the same beat, it sounds good. We’re trying to find the same beat again. It’s a good thing the season doesn’t end in January.”

During Sparta’s COVID outbreak, the Trojans were still able to practice, but were short-handed.

“The most (players) we had at practices was nine and for four or five days in a row we only had six,” Link said. “We weren’t able to get up and down (the court). But we were able to work on some individual stuff as much as we could.”

Sparta stayed within striking distance of Gainesville, but never mounted a serious rally. The Trojans were too patient offensively in the final minutes, letting time slip away.

“Those are learning opportunities,” Link said. “We were in that mode where we were still trying to find the best shot. That’s situational basketball that, as we move on, we’re going to have to be better at.”

Lafferty scored 14 points and dominated the boards.

“What he brings to the table is something not a lot of people can bring with his athleticism and willingness to rebound,” Link said. “He would tell you he could have had a lot more (rebounds). He’s disappointed he didn’t have more.”

Lafferty and Gainesville center Bryce Hambelton made for an intriguing matchup in the paint. Lafferty is 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds while Hambelton is 6-0 and 235.

“You can’t move him. You’ve just got to be more athletic and get over him,” Lafferty said. “It felt like I had three guys on me, I’m not going to lie. He’s probably the best big guy I’ll play against all year.”

Sparta will face New Covenant in a consolation semifinal at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

SPARTA (33) — Walker 3 0-0 8, Brown 1 0-0 3, J. Lafferty 7 0-0 14, L. Lafferty 1 2-2 4, D. Loveland 2 0-0 4.

GAINESVILLE (41) — Evans 1 0-0 3, Alms 2 1-1 5, Wise 2 0-0 4, Jenkins 1 2-2 4, A. Hambelton 2 1-1 5, B. Hambelton 9 2-4 20.

Sparta         12  4  7 10 - 33

Gainesville   8  14 9 10 - 41

3-point goals - Walker 2, Brown, Evans, Alms.