After a quarterfinals win made its record 30-0, Kendrick High girls head coach Sterling Hicks said it was just one win and there were two more left to go.
He wasn’t taking anything for granted. That’s because he knew just how difficult the competition could be in the state semifinals.
The Lady Cherokees experienced that firsthand on Friday, losing to Laney 67-44 in the Class AA semifinals at the Centennial Center in Milledgeville.
The loss ended Kendrick’s season two wins short of a state championship and perfect season.
“We lost,” Hicks said after the game. “That’s what I’ll remember from this. I expect to win every game. We won 30 games, but we always want a state championship. That’s always the goal. That’s what we’re playing for.”
Laney advances to the Class AA title game, where it will face Wesleyan on March 8.
From the outset, Kendrick experienced more difficulty on both sides of the court than it has all season long.
One Laney player in particular, senior center Khadijiah Cave gave the Lady Cherokees fits.
The 6-foot-3 Cave, a Baylor signee, scored with relative ease inside the paint. Kendrick, which couldn’t match Laney’s size, had no answer for the interior game, which helped give the Lady Wildcats a six-point lead after one, a 10-point lead at the half and a 13-point lead after three.
Cave notched seven points in the first quarter, 12 in the second and finished with a game-high 31.
On the other end of the floor, she was equally dominating, blocking seven shots in the first half.
Despite Cave’s intimidating presence on the inside, Hicks said he thought his team should have been able to take advantage of more opportunities than it did.
“We had layup attempts that we usually make,” he said. “We just didn’t make them tonight. You can’t win games like that.”
Sill, Kendrick nearly had itself in position for a late run, cutting the Laney lead to nine points with two minutes remaining in the third quarter. It had a handful of opportunities to cut into the lead further, but could not take advantage.
Cave knocked down a short shot at the buzzer to give her team a 13-point lead after three. Kendrick scored the first five in the fourth to get within eight, but that was as close as it would get. Laney scored the next nine, increasing its lead to 59-42 with just over four minutes left.
“We just have to work a little harder,” Hicks said. “That’s all we can do.”
Kahlia Lawrence led the Lady Cherokees with 15 points in the loss.
The good news for Kendrick is that Lawrence, along with the majority of the roster, will return next season.
Only two seniors will graduate, while the team’s nucleus will remain intact. Hicks said, though, that nothing is guaranteed.
“We’re not guaranteed anything (next year),” he said. “We just need to do what it takes to be in the hunt.”
However they do it, Hicks said he’s never happy with a losing result.
“I can deal with losing, but I don’t accept losing,” he said.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.
Friday at Milledgeville
Laney 19 16 15 17—67
Kendrick 13 12 12 7—44
Cave 31, Wright 9, Smith 9, Bowman 8, Brewton 4, Ali. Collier 4, Alb. Collier 2.
Lawrence 15, Porter 7, McKissic 6, Cheatham 6, Farley 4, Jack 2, Thompson 2, Jones 2.
Records: Laney, 30-0; Kendrick, 30-1. Next: Laney, vs. Wesleyan on March 8 in state title game; Kendrick, season over.