High school basketball recap: Kendrick, Laney set up for battle of unbeatens

dmitchell@ledger-enquirerFebruary 27, 2013 

And then there was one.

In Tuesday’s girls state playoff action, two Bi-City area teams took the court, but only one survived to advance to the state semifinals.

Win or lose, though, both teams showed equal parts heart and skill in their quarterfinals efforts.

Here’s a look at Tuesday’s action.

Recap: We’ll start by giving due congratulations to the Hardaway girls team, which lost 51-44 in overtime to Forest Park on Tuesday at home.

Let’s give this some context: Forest Park was the fifth-ranked team in the Class AAAAA. It was 24-7 and had played extremely well in its region. Hardaway, despite being extremely talented, entered this game as an underdog.

Still, the Lady Hawks gave themselves opportunities to win the game. Even though they didn’t, you can’t underestimate their heart for this one. Forest Park never led by more than four points in the second half.

Alexcia McNeal again led Hardaway in scoring with 13.

Now, what to say about Kendrick?

It is 30-0 and playing in the Class AA semifinals.

Actually, I think that about sums it up. Not a whole lot needs to be said about a team with a perfect record that is just two games away from a state championship. Allow me to try, though.

Was Kendrick’s 53-43 win over defending champion Lovett its best performance? Not hardly.

The Lady Cherokees didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, they turned it over a couple of times and they lost the battle inside for the majority of the game.

That’s fine.

What Kendrick did do was, for the second consecutive game, prove that it was able to fight through adversity. It continued its relentless pressure defense even when Lovett broke through a couple of times, knowing that by the fourth quarter the Lady Lions would not be able to keep up with its pace.

In a defensive battle, Kendrick forced key turnovers late in the game that resulted in easy lay-ins at the other end. For 29 games, we saw how Kendrick could win pretty. Championship teams, at some point, have to win ugly, though. That’s what we saw from Kendrick on Tuesday, and I think it is a better team because of it.

What it means: It means we are set up for one heck of a semifinals matchup between Kendrick and Laney on Friday.

If you thought the last two games were tight, wait until you get a load of this game.

The teams’ combined record this season: 59-0. Kendrick has won 30 consecutive games, Laney 29. Kendrick has seen more offensive production, while Laney is slightly more adept at the defensive end (judging solely by point totals, which really don’t tell the whole story).

While everyone is looking at Wesleyan as the favorite in Class AA, and for good reason, this game is more than worthy of some recognition.

It has a chance to become the best game of any in the Class AA girls playoffs.

What we learned: As I said, we learned that Kendrick could win ugly, and that’s not meant as an insult at all.

The Lady Cherokees showed they could trade punches with one of the best teams in the state against Greater Atlanta Christian. Against Lovett, they showed that they could play below their normal level of basketball and still find a way to get a win.

That takes guts, heart and a commitment to doing what got it to the quarterfinals in the first place.

After the game, coach Sterling Hicks said that his halftime message to his team, which trailed by two, was essentially to keep doing what it was doing. Its brand of basketball had been successful all season. Why change now—even if it wasn’t working?

That proved to be the best advice he could give, as Kendrick came out strong in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter when Lovett was worn down.

Best of the day: Major kudos to Kendrick’s Sierra Porter, who had a couple of key steals and led the team with seven points in the fourth quarter. She scored 14 in the game overall, two behind leading scorer Kahlia Lawrence, but it was her key plays down the stretch that really made the difference.

In addition to the steals and points, she had two assists on crosscourt passes to Marganique McKissic.

Quotable:

“I had a team that went 32-0, so I always have something to show (the team). They haven’t done it yet. We had a lot of teams that went 30-0 that couldn’t finish the deal. … This is No. 30. We’re trying to get No. 31.” –Kendrick coach Sterling Hicks on keeping his team focused

Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports for live updates from games, thoughts and predictions. Come back to the Valley Preps Blog for recaps and previews throughout the playoffs.

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