Somewhere, Otis Smart figures, there is a basketball team running as hard as his Laney girls, who rarely appear out of breath streaking down the court for four quarters.
That team was not Mitchell County, which brought perhaps the tallest lineup the Lady Wildcats had faced this season into a second-round Class AA girls basketball playoff game Tuesday night.
The Eagles were doubled over, clutching their shorts, by the third quarter of Laney's 70-38 victory. Freshman Jermeka Gibson hit five 3-pointers and scored a game-high 23 points for the Wildcats. Taylor Ayers added 18.
Laney advanced to the state quarterfinals for the fourth consecutive season and will face Northeast-Macon at 7 p.m. Saturday at Savannah State.
The Lady Wildcats, who have won 20 games in a row, led by at least 17 points the entire second half and by 34 at the end of three quarters, shortening the final period to 6 minutes.
"What's going on now is our stamina and conditioning is getting us through," Smart said. "That's what we're winning off of: executing when a team is worn down."
During warmups, Laney senior Glentrice Sapp admitted to stealing a glance at Mitchell County, which won its opening-round game by 23 points and featured four players taller than 5-foot-9, including 6-2 starting center Tiona Burley.
"They were big, but they couldn't run with us," said Sapp, who scored 13 points and was the game's fiercest rebounder. "They thought they could rebound and run with us, but by the time the third quarter ran around, they were (tired)."
Said Smart," They were something to reckon with. They had a lot of height, but we attacked them from the guard play."
In addition to his team's strong rebounding, Smart thought the game turned on two things: the way his press, led by Brianna Eubanks, isolated and harassed the Eagles' lone ball handler and the overall play of Gibson. She started and opened the game with two quick 3s, making sure Laney would never trail. By the end of the night, she had set a career-high in points.
"A natural ballplayer." Smart called Gibson, who is just 15. "She can shoot it, and she got moves."
Laney's season ended last year in Savannah with a 57-44 loss to Randolph-Clay, a game Sapp said she barely remembered. Laney this weekend will be searching for the school's second state semifinals trip this decade (2007).
"This year, I think we'll keep playing and working hard," Sapp said.
Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.