With each step along the road to its ultimate goal of a state championship, the Kendrick High girls basketball team has been faced with more difficult competition.
In the second round of the Class AA playoffs, it was Greater Atlanta Christian, which pushed the Lady Cherokees to the brink in a 61-59 game. The quarterfinals ended in a 10-point win for Kendrick, but it was held to its third-lowest point total of the season.
Now, it will face the only other unbeaten team in Class AA when it faces Laney at 4 p.m. Friday in the semifinals at Georgia College in Milledgeville.
Coach Sterling Hicks appeared taken aback when informed of that statistic. That’s because the Lady Cherokees really are just worried about themselves, Hicks said.
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“We don’t discuss the other team’s record,” he said. “We just worry about us.”
It’s a refrain he’s used throughout the season to great success. Kendrick has made a habit of running away from opponents, though it has been tested in its past two games.
Most importantly, he’s got his players sharing the same mindset.
“We don’t look at the other side,” junior Kahlia Lawrence said. “It’s just another side. We do what we can do to prepare and do things the right way.”
“We’re only focused on what we do,” Deja Cheatham said. “We’re focusing on the next game and not looking too far ahead.”
It’s coach speak in a way (“taking it one game at a time”), but it really is a part of Kendrick’s personality. Hicks knows he has a team capable of success at the state level, so he’s not about to change its identity at this point in the season.
“It’s too late in the game to change anything,” he said. “We’re just going to keep doing what got us here.”
What got them there is the Lady Cherokees’ speed, athleticism and, most of all, defense.
“Everything starts on defense,” Hicks said after his team’s win on Tuesday.
That was again a point of emphasis when the players talked before their practice on Thursday.
“We know they’re bigger than us,” Lawrence said of Laney. “We need to be able to run to wear them down. As long as our defense is on, we’ll be alright.”
Cheatham noted Kendrick’s stamina and its effect on the pace of a game.
“That’s really important,” she said. “We need to keep the pace up in order to wear them down and get some of their key players out.”
It’s possible that the location of the game could get credited with an assist if the Lady Cherokees are to win.
Playing at Georgia College, the court will be bigger than the one the teams are used to playing on in high school.
Hicks didn’t say whether he thought that would benefit his team, but given its athleticism, it certainly won’t hurt.
“We hope so,” he said. “I hope it will benefit us.”
Whether it does or not, Hicks said he’s, obviously, only worried about the end result.
“It doesn’t matter how you get there. Just get there,” he said. “Just keep moving forward.”
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.