For the second time in three seasons, the Laney Lady Wildcats can call themselves state champions after defeating the Rabun County Lady Wildcats 85-76 in the Class AA title game on Saturday at Georgia Tech's McCamish Pavilion.
Laney's De'Sha Benjamin, a 5-foot-11 junior who can play all five positions, led all scorers with 25 points to go with 11 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 blocks, guiding the Lady Wildcats to their second title in program history. Their first came in 2015, when they won Class AAA.
"I'm so proud of my team," Benjamin said. "We did great, worked hard and stayed together."
Laney (31-1) jumped out early and maintained control by dominating in the transition game, outrunning Rabun County (29-3) for easy layups. Laney scored 58 of its points from inside the paint. The transition game also kept Rabun County out of position, which allowed Laney to grab 26 offensive rebounds for 16 second-chance points.
Laney led 24-18 after the first quarter and 46-30 at the half.
But Rabun County switched up its strategy to start the third quarter, playing more of a half-court game and setting up its 3-point shooters. The Lady Wildcats went 4-for-5 from long range -- sophomore Brooke Henricks hit two -- and they pulled to within three points at 50-47 with 3:14 remaining, outscoring Laney 24-14 in the third.
Rabun County was aided by Laney when Laney tried to match 3s instead of sticking with the transition game. Laney was 0-for-4 from 3-point range in the third quarter and finished the game 0-for-9.
"That happens," Laney coach Otis Smart said of Rabun County's run. "We lost control there and gave (the momentum) back. That was a good team we played."
But Laney was better. Leading 60-54 after three quarters, the Lady Wildcats returned to the transition game and pushed the lead back into double digits with 5:48 remaining at 68-58. Rabun County never got any closer than six points after that.
Laney also got a big game from sophomore guard Jaiden Hamilton, who had 22 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists. Senior Aubriana Bonner also turned in a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds while adding 5 assists, and senior guard Jazmine Bartlett had 11 points.
Rabun County was led by senior Hallie Reeves, who scored 20 points on 3-for-4 3-point shooting. Henricks, a sophomore, had 17 points and Savannah Scott had 10 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists in her final prep game.
For Rabun County's Lady Wildcats, it was the most successful run in program history. Before this season, they'd never made it past the quarterfinals.
"It's always tough to lose the last one," Lady Wildcats coach DeeDee Dillard said. "Especially when you play with such heart...It's been a fun ride, so these girls girls have nothing to hang their heads about."