ATLANTA – The first state title was a long time coming. The second further established the program as a statewide power.
In typical Laney fashion, the Lady Wildcats pressured, trapped and wore down their opponent. A familiar game plan produced a familiar outcome.
Laney outpaced Rabun County’s speed and pressure defense to win 85-76 in the Class AA state championship Saturday at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion. The Lady Wildcats claimed their second state title in three seasons.
“This is awesome for the school, the community, and I didn’t get here by myself,” Laney coach Otis Smart said. “I had good parents, good administration. All that helps. Everybody had something to do with it.”
De’Sha Benjamin fittingly hoisted the trophy after Laney won its 30th game in a row to finish 31-1. The star Laney junior scored a game-high 25 points with 11 rebounds, five assists and five blocks, often putting the team on her back when Rabun County wouldn’t go away.
It was easily one of Laney’s toughest tests this season, and the Lady Wildcats wore looks of exhaustion late in the game after Rabun County charged back in the third quarter. That run prevented Laney’s 30th double-digit margin of victory this year, but it didn’t stop the Lady Wildcats from taking home another title.
“I’m proud of my team,” Benjamin said. “We worked hard and we came a long way, but we ended up pulling it off. We tried to stay together as a team. They went on a run, but we came back. We talked about it as a team, talked about it on the bench, and we pulled it off.”
Jaiden Hamilton scored 22 points with 13 rebounds, while Aubriana Bonner had 16 points, 10 boards, six steals and five assists as Laney shot 46 percent for the game and produced 58 points in the paint.
Laney established its speed and pressure defense early, stunning Rabun County’s large crowd with a 12-4 deficit. The advantage was 24-18 after the first quarter.
A 22-12 second quarter gave Laney its largest lead of the game into the locker room at 46-30, sparked in part by Bonner’s defense and Laney’s lightning-quick transition offense. The Lady Wildcats produced several buckets in the final minute, including a layup near the buzzer to carry momentum into the break.
Rabun County began its run immediately after the half by hitting several 3-pointers. Consecutive 3s cut Laney’s lead back to single digits at 50-45 with 4:06 left in the third, and Rabun County, which went 10 for 14 in the quarter, got as close as three before the quarter closed at 60-54.
Laney responded with a run out of the quarter break and regained a 10-point lead with 5:30 left. More 3-pointers kept Rabun County within striking distance, but the familiar dominance in the paint and trapping defense gave Laney a 76-63 lead with 2:40 to go.
The Lady Wildcats made the necessary free throws and kept Rabun County off the board down the stretch to seal the win.
“I’m so tired right now,” Bonner said. “That’s how hard I played. I played my heart out. I want to thank my teammates for playing hard, too. As we work hard in practice with endurance and running every day, it paid off. Today, it really paid off.”
Rabun County’s Hallie Reeves posted 20 points, while Brooke Henricks added 17. Rabun County drained six 3-pointers in the second half, but Laney won the rebound battle 53-33, including 26 offensive boards.
Reach David Lee at (706) 823-3216 or email@example.com.
Class AA Playoffs
LANEY 85, RABUN COUNTY 76
LANEY (85) – Jhessyka Williams 5, Jazmine Bartlett 11, Aubriana Bonner 16, Jaiden Hamilton 22, De’Sha Benjamin 25, Whitney Anderson 2, Camille Smith 4. Totals: 33 19-34 85.
RABUN COUNTY (76) – Savanna Scott 10, Brooke Henricks 17, Georgia Stockton 11, Hallie Reeves 20, Tessa Matheson 6, Laken Stiles 10, Kaitlin Coleman 2. Totals: 26 18-23 76.
3-point goals: Rabun County 6 (Reeves 3, Henricks 2, Scott).
Records: Laney 31-1, Rabun County 29-3.