MACON, Ga. - Ashley Key played herself to exhaustion Wednesday night.
And it still wasn't enough for Landmark Christian.
Key matched a career-high with 44 points and grabbed 20 rebounds, but Landmark Christian fell to Jenkins County 66-64 in overtime in the GHSA Girls Class A semifinals at the Macon Coliseum.
"I was about to pass out," said a still shivering Key, 10 minutes after the game
With good reason.
She played all 36 minutes and made 19 of 39 field goal attempts, including two coast-to-coast layups in the final 20 seconds of regulation to force overtime. But Key, who did most of the ball-handling and post defense for Landmark Christian, often had to rest on one end of the court while action went the other way.
"She was about to fall flat on her face. Ashley was so fatigued," Landmark coach Rick Hammock said.
Even so, Hammock didn't - couldn't - go to his bench. He played one reserve for one minute in the game, and just watched as his team let a 49-37 fourth-quarter lead slip away under a barrage of Jenkins County 3-pointers.
Jenkins made four 3-pointers in the final quarter, the final one with a minute remaining to tie the game at 53-53. Jenkins also hit one in overtime.
"I told everyone, 'she's tired. We can go ahead and get the game right here,"' said Vontrease Smith, who led Jenkins County with 20 points.
Though Jenkins County would grab leads at 55-53 and 57-55, Key drove the length of the court twice for layups to tie the game both times. Jenkins County, with fouls to give, didn't foul her.
"She's just a great phenomenal player. I thought we had to keep her in the low 20s to win the game, but she was in the low 20s at halftime," Jenkins County coach Joey Kirkland said.
Key had 21 at the half. The rest of her team scored 20 points the entire game - 14 by Merritt Tidwell.
Even with such little support, Key nearly won it. She had an assist, one of four on the night, and a basket to give Landmark Christian a 61-57 lead in overtime. Jenkins, however, scored nine of the next 10 points and led 66-62 with 24 seconds remaining.
Landmark wasn't done. A steal and layup by Andrea Fergus cut the lead to 66-64 with nine seconds left.
Key deflected the inbounds pass and tracked the ball down, but missed badly on a 3-pointer. Landmark would grab three rebounds, but miss all three putbacks - including one by Key - in a final scrum before the buzzer sounded.
"I never gave up on the girls, and they never gave up either," Kirkland said. "I'm so proud of my girls."
Whitney Muckerson, who chased Key most of the game, scored 19 points and Cassandra McGriff had 12 in the win. The Eagles (27-0) will play Taylor County (31-1) for the state championship Saturday at 11 a.m.
Still it was Key that had everyone talking - and gawking. A North Carolina State signee, Key was recruited by the nation's women's college basketball elite - Tennessee, Connecticut, North Carolina, Kansas State - despite battling injuries her entire high school career.
She missed most of her sophomore season with a broken left arm and all of her junior season after tearing ligaments in her left knee. She has scoliosis and her coach said her knee is just getting back to 100 percent.
None of that stopped her from averaging 24 points and 12 rebounds per game this year, numbers she nearly doubled Wednesday night against constant pressure.
"I don't think there's a better player in the state," Hammock said. "Regardless of classification."
Still it's Jenkins County that will play for title of best girls Class A team in the state.
JENKINS COUNTY 66, LANDMARK CHRISTIAN 64 Semifinal
JENKINS COUNTY (66)-Whitney Muckerson 19, Gross 8, Coney 8, Cassandra McGriff 11, Vontrease Smith 20.
LANDMARK CHRISTIAN (64)-Whitley 2, Ashley Key 44, Fergus 4, Merritt Tidwell 14.
Jenkins County9 14 14 20 9-66
Landmark Christian12 14 17 14 7-64
3-pointers: Jenkins Co. (McGriff 3, Gross 2, Smith); Landmark Christian (Tidwell 4, Key). Records: Jenkins Co. 27-0; Landmark Christian 26-5. Next: Jenkins Co. vs. Taylor County in championship, Sat., 11 a.m., Coliseum; Landmark Christian season completed.
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