Kendrick, Columbus girls ready for big opportunities in Saturday semifinals

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 28, 2014 

The Columbus High and Kendrick High girls basketball teams are nearly perfect.

Between the two, they have just a single loss. In 30 games, Columbus has won 29, losing only to Northside High in the semifinals of the Shaw Christmas tournament. Kendrick has played 29 times and won every single one of them, taking a spotless record into the final four for the second consecutive season.

They have proven to be two of the best teams in the state so far this season — Kendrick, in fact, holds the No. 1 ranking as the lone unbeaten in Class AA — and on Saturday they have a chance to get one step closer to proving it.

Kendrick will face Putnam County at 3 p.m. at Columbus State in the Class AA girls semifinal, while Columbus will travel to West Georgia, where it will face Woodland at 6:30 p.m.

Columbus last advanced to the state title game in 2004, when it lost 63-59 to St. Pius X. Kendrick, of course, completed a perfect season with a victory over Carrollton in the 2008 state final. Last year, Kendrick had a chance to make it back but dropped its first and only game of the season to Laney in the semifinals.

“We’ve been here before,” senior leader Kahlia Lawrence said after a nail-biting victory over Greater Atlanta Christian in the quarterfinals. “The first time, we took things for granted. We won’t do that this time. We know what it’s going to take.”

In case either team had forgotten how difficult it is, they were given refreshers in their respective quarterfinal games. Columbus had to battle back from early deficits against Columbia to advance. Kendrick, meanwhile, trailed the entire first three quarters, saw Lawrence foul out with more than seven minutes left in regulation, forced overtime and somehow escaped with a three-point, season-saving win against GAC.

Asked if it will get any harder than that dramatic win, Lady Cherokees coach Sterling Hicks smiled.

“I hope it doesn’t,” he said.

He knows, of course, that it will.

Against Putnam County, Kendrick will face a team with a 27-2 record and a balanced attack. If there’s one thing holding the Lady Cherokees back, it is their size. Putnam County, meanwhile, is led by sophomore post Ebony Hargrove (5-foot-10), who averages 12.8 points per game.

Lawrence leads Kendrick with just under 27 points per game, but Hicks has continued to stress his team is a balanced bunch as well, which it proved by winning in Lawrence’s absence on Wednesday.

Columbus, however, is the opposite. Freshmen Tatyana Wyatt (6-foot-1) and Ariyah Copeland (6-foot-2) have proven to be key figures in the Lady Blue Devils’ success. The team also features consistent guard play behind leading scorer Alexia Manning (14.2 points per game) and Jacqueria Gunter (11.1 points per game).

“These girls have put in so much hard work,” coach Joe Cherrone told the Ledger-Enquirer on Wednesday. “They really deserve it. No team deserves it more than they do. They put in the work, both on the court and in the classroom.”

Hicks said winning a championship takes a little luck, as well, knowing how much work and how skilled every team is. If Kendrick and Columbus get both on Saturday, it will be set up two girls championship games, a sign of the success for Columbus area teams this season.

For Kendrick, that championship game could mean a rematch with Laney or a showdown with defending champion Wesleyan. But Hicks will cross that bridge when he comes to it.

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