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Justin Payne takes a shot during the league championship game Friday night.

STATHAM—Malcom Bridge Middle School boys basketball team had an easy go of it in most of their games this season.

It was their two close games against their rival Oconee County Middle School is where their biggest flaw showed. The Lightning, having been so dominant, hadn’t faced the adversity head coach Justin Laurens knew was coming if they were going to win a league championship.

“I’ve preached to them all year that our biggest opponent is us,” Laurens said. “If we take care of us and take care of the basketball, we’ll be fine. We didn’t do that against them the first two times. Their pressure was something we hadn’t seen. Their ability to put it in the basket was something we haven’t seen... Give credit to that team (OCMS).”

The two times the Lightning didn’t take care of the ball in the key moments and shot with an efficient number was when they suffered two losses to the Braves, with both coming with them leading entering the final quarter of the game.

The losses didn’t feel great in the moment. Laurens knew the Lightning needed to learn from them. Friday night, the Lightning sat down to take the final exam and passed with flying colors.

MBMS defeated OCMS 37-23 to win the Northeast Georgia Athletic League championship at Bear Creek Middle School.

The losses to the Braves made the win on Friday much sweeter and gave a sense lured a sense of pride for the Lightning’s head coach after seeing his team fight off the adversity bug to earn their title.

“I think that will make it sweeter for the kids,” Laurens said. “We have a great group of young men. They have great character and they’re good people. The fact that they faced adversity two times in a row and had to learn how to lose and be good losers to come back and fight to win. That’s a lifelong lesson to teach a 13-year-old that I think will help them in the future.”

The Lightning got the early lead and after a week of conversation they cut down their turnovers that allowed the Braves to come back from deficits in the first two meetings.

“In the other two games Oconee jumped out on us and we didn’t understand how to handle adversity,” Laurens said. “We really talked this week controlling the basketball. There at the end of the game we were able to waste some clock. We finally got some shots to go in. In the other two games, we shot 18 percent and 23 percent from the field. We’re averaging almost 40 percent for the year. The two things, taking care of the basketball and being able to put it in the basket tonight made the difference.”

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