This is when the fun stops, where the impressive runs conclude.
In each of the past three completed seasons, the Laney girls basketball team has been eliminated in the Class AA state semifinals. For the boys, they’ve lost in the semifinals the past two years.
Both squads return to Macon, Ga., today, ready to end the string of semifinal defeats.
The girls haven’t made the final since 1995, when they lost to Woodward Academy.
“This team resembles that team,” Lady Wildcats coach Otis Smart said. “This team can get to the next level.”
The girls’ optimism could be buoyed by what isn’t on the court.
The past three years, the Lady Wildcats have lost to Buford in the semifinals every season. However, this year, Buford started on the other side of the 32-team bracket, meaning Laney and Buford couldn’t meet until the state championship.
That’s still a possibility on Saturday, but the Lady Wildcats have to first beat Lovett at 4 p.m. today.
In its region tournament, Lovett lost to Buford, which is the only team to beat Lovett this calendar year.
After the girls game, the Laney boys hit the court, with the Wildcats playing Jordan at 5:30.
“We have to believe in each other and have the vision we can go out and do it,” Wildcats guard Raheem Newton said.
Entering the season, Laney had to win without Rod Hall and Corinthians Brown, who starred a year ago. With those two, coach Jerry Hunter said it seemed Laney would arrive at a game already up 10.
But with those two gone, others had to step up.
Shaquille Cook, Glenn Rodriguez and Jammie West have all done their share of providing clutch plays late, which goes into Hunter’s belief that this team can get the job done in crunch time.
That inability had a role in ending Laney’s season in the 2011 semifinals against Buford. The Wildcats lost
63-59, with a late turnover undoing a rally attempt.
“Last year, we were there but we didn’t have the eye of the tiger,” Hunter said.
This season’s Wildcats play Jordan. The Red Jackets’ three losses have come by a combined six points.
Laney is ready for the up-tempo nature of Jordan, which is the last hurdle for Laney to overcome if it wants to play for its first state championship.
“It’s been a season against all odds,” Hunter said. “But we definitely feel there’s some unfinished business in Macon.”