MACON, Ga. — Raheem Newton couldn’t help but keep looking across the court to the first row.
Sitting there was his half brother, Rod Hall, a star on the previous year’s team. Hall – like other members of prior Laney boys basketball teams – had fallen short of the ultimate goal.
But as Newton followed the other starters to the bench amidst cheers from players and fans, he got a hug from coach Jerry Hunter. They all knew it: the Wildcats wouldn’t have to wait another year.
The clock soon ran out and Laney had finally done it, not only for themselves but also for people part of Laney’s past.
“I was dedicating it to him,” Newton said about Hall. “I did it for all the teams in the past, all of Laney’s basketball teams.”
The Wildcats basked in the euphoric moment as Laney beat Manchester, 67-53, Saturday at the Macon Coliseum to win the Class AA state championship.
The Wildcats survived a deluge of Blue Devils 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to claim the title.
Laney, which lost in the state semifinals the past two seasons, trailed only once on Saturday – and that was at 2-0. The Wildcats opened up a double-digit lead in the first quarter and were up by 25 in the fourth period.
Jammie West got the Wildcats off to a quick start, scoring 11 of the game’s first 13 points. He drilled three 3-pointers in the opening period and scored a team-high 20 points.
Besides showing patience on offense and limiting turnovers, the Wildcats also kept the Blue Devils off the glass as their lead grew. Most Manchester offensive trips ended after one shot or a turnover.
A 10-point halftime edge ballooned to 25 in the fourth, with Shaquille Cook helping his team clean up inside on both sides of the floor and teammates using good ball movement to score inside, including impressive dishes from West and Newton.
“It’s a Mother’s Day gift to Miss Laney, from us,” Wildcats coach Jerry Hunter said.
However, instead of coasting to glory, Laney had to survive.
Led by Zay Echols, the Blue Devils started firing 3s – and it seemed all of them started to go in.
Manchester drilled six 3s in a rally push, closing to within eight at 56-48.
However, with its championship hopes now in doubt, Laney persevered.
The Wildcats’ defense tightened – the Blue Devils missed nine of their last 10 3-pointers as they hurried to get as many shots up as possible in the closing minutes – and Newton was clutch at the line with nine fourth-quarter free throws.
“I can’t believe it, but we knew it was going to happen,” said a smiling West.