Simone Smith was clapping, and she would soon hold a trophy, but her expression was more stoic than excited as she walked off the court.
This time, the Lady Wildcats had to work to win. But they did win, and this victory gave the Laney girls basketball team a region championship.
After building a big early lead of 19 points, Laney survived to beat Dublin at home, 65-59, Saturday night in the Region 3-AA Tournament championship game.
“We had to fight,” Lady Wildcats coach Otis Smart said. “But we needed that.”
Smith closed the win for Laney, coming down with an offensive rebound after a missed free throw and immediately putting a shot in for the last two points of the game. She later got a defensive rebound as the Lady Irish shot 3 after 3 in the final few moments.
But early on, everything appeared to be business as usual, with Laney not taking much time to go up 11-0 and then 29-10, with Khadijiah Cave finishing inside, Smith and Destiny Brewton adding baskets and Aliyah Collier scoring eight points in the first quarter.
However, after Laney used an attacking offense that led to layups, the Lady Wildcats’ offense stagnated, with long shots missing. Cave also got into foul trouble, with the senior picking up her fourth foul with 6:38 to go in the third quarter.
Dublin fought back to make it a game, with Quiondra Darrisaw making four 3s as she got 18 points.
After a Smith field goal made it 54-34 Laney early in the fourth, the Lady Irish went on their run. Darrisaw warmed up by hitting two quick 3-pointers, and Laney sputtered offensively. Players dribbled without purpose, leading to five-second closely guarded calls and other turnovers.
But as Dublin cut the deficit to four, Smith emerged with her clinching two points after a missed free throw.
With Smith’s clutch points, Laney earned a No. 1 seed for the state tournament.
“I said, ‘C’mon, ‘Mone, you got to keep pushing for your team,’ ” Smith remembers thinking. “You have to keep pushing and going for it.”