As the final seconds ticked down in Kendrick’s game against Greater Atlanta Christian in the second round of the Class AA girls tournament on Friday, fans, both home and visitors, drew a collective breath.
In their closest game of the season, the Lady Cherokees led by just two points and the Lady Spartans possessed the ball with just three seconds remaining on the clock. A last-second heave came close, but caromed off the backboard as the home fans rose to their feet to cheer on Kendrick’s 61-59 victory.
With the win, the Lady Cherokees (29-0) kept their unbeaten record intact and advanced to the quarterfinals where they will host third-seeded Lovett on Tuesday.
“We’ll take it,” Kendrick coach Sterling Hicks said with a wry smile. “That’s a great team. We played the way we play every game. That’s the only way we know how to play.”
Neither team in the game gained more than a five-point advantage. Kendrick went ahead 51-46 in the final quarter, but saw its lead fizzle when GAC (21-8) immediately went on a 6-0 run to regain the lead with six minutes left.
In what was arguably the play of the game and may have prevented the Lady Spartans from gaining an insurmountable advantage, Kendrick’s Kahlia Lawrence was fouled and tossed up a prayer as she fell to the ground about 10 feet from the basket. The ball bounced off the backboard and in and Lawrence sunk the foul shot to give her team a two-point advantage with five minutes, 40 seconds remaining.
It wasn’t the end of the game by any means, but it helped Kendrick regain its footing in a high-pressure situation, the likes of which it had not faced all season.
“I felt the contact and I had to get the ball up,” Lawrence said. “It was all reaction. Just part of the game.”
Down by one point with 53 seconds left, Lawrence came through at the foul line again, sinking both ends of a one-and-one to give her team the lead. She was 9 of 9 at the charity stripe, but none were as big as those two, which kept the Lady Spartans from having an opportunity to bleed the clock.
“Big-time players make big-time plays,” Hicks said of Lawrence. “It just shows a lot of poise.”
Lawrence finished with a game-high 30 points for the Lady Cherokees.
With a one-point lead under a minute, senior Sierra Porter went through a quick roller coaster of plays. After failing to get the ball in bounds at one end of the court, resulting in a five-second violation, Porter came up big at the other end with a steal. After taking possession of the ball, she was fouled and sank a free-throw to give Kendrick the two-point margin it would win by.
“When I turned the ball over, the adrenaline—I was trying not to let it get to me,” Porter said. “But I knew defense is what I’m good at. I was just like ‘D’ up, and that’s what I did.”
Kendrick was helped out by Brittany Thompson’s 10 points, while the Lady Spartans were led by Brianna Cummings (26 points) and Cosette Mahre (12 points, all on 3-pointers).
Hicks said neither he nor his team was looking ahead to who was next yet.
“We’re just going to keep doing what we do,” Hicks said.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.
Friday at Kendrick
GAC 13 15 18 13—59
Kendrick 13 16 17 15—61
Cummings 26, Mahre 12, Buford 11, Means 6, Miller 2, Brody 2.
Lawrence 30, Thompson 10, Cheatham 9, Farley 4, Jones 3, Merritt 2, McKissic 2, Porter 1.
Records: GAC, 21-8; Kendrick, 29-0. Next: GAC, season over; Kendrick, Tuesday vs. Lovett.