Lanier coach Josh Link (front) and the Lady Longhorns exit the court following their 58-54 win over Alpharetta in the opening round of the Class AAAAAA tournament on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 in Sugar Hill. 
Photo: Adam Krohn
Photo: Adam Krohn

Lanier girls 58, Alpharetta 54

The Lanier Lady Longhorns overcame a slow start that saw them in a steep hole early, took control late and fended off the Alpharetta Lady Raiders 58-54 at home on Friday in the opening round of the Class AAAAAA tournament.

For the No. 5-ranked Lady Longhorns (23-6), it was their first playoff win in a program history that began the 2010-11 season. As a No. 2 seed from Region 8, they advance to the second round, where they’ll play at No. 3 Harrison — a No. 1 seed from Region 6 that defeated South Paulding 79-39 on Friday. 

The Lanier-Harrison matchup will take place either Wednesday or Thursday at a time to be determined.

Senior guard Jamyah Montissol came up big for Lanier in the fourth quarter with two crucial 3-pointers and a pair of free throws with 12.1 seconds remaining that iced the game and brought the score to its final margin.

She finished the quarter with 10 points and had a team-high 19 for the game.

“I’m proud of everybody since this is our first year ever accomplishing this,” Montissol said. “We’re very excited and taking every day step by step. We’re grateful for this opportunity, for sure, and we’re excited to get (what will be) the first banner up here.”

The way the game started for the Lady Longhorns, it wasn’t looking like their first playoff win would come this season. The Lady Raiders (21-6) — a No. 3 seed from Region 7 — opened on fire, with senior guard Sydnie Ward going 3-for-3 from 3-point range in the game’s first two minutes, giving them a 9-0 lead and igniting a 16-4 Alpharetta run. 

Lanier would quickly gain its footing, however, closing Alpharetta’s lead to 16-13 by the end of the first. That was part of a 23-2 run that gave the Lady Longhorns a 27-18 lead. 

Lanier led 27-24 heading into the half.

“I think once the jitters kind of wore off and we started playing our game, we settled down,” said first-year coach Josh Link, who took over for Lanier after two seasons as an assistant. “We’ve been in games where we’ve had to battle back and it comes through in situations like this.”

The Lady Raiders stayed close in the third thanks to nine points from Kendall Phillips. 

The score was tied at 42 heading into the fourth when Montissol took over. She hit her first 3 of the quarter to give the Lady Longhorns a 45-44 lead with 7 minutes remaining. A minute later, her field goal again put Lanier up 47-46. Alpharetta never seemed to recover from her 3-pointer with 4:10 left, which gave Lanier a 52-47 lead.

Alpharetta was given one last glimmer of hope with 14.7 seconds left when Grace Knutsen hit a 3 to bring the score to 56-54 in Lanier’s favor. On the ensuing inbound, the Lady Raiders immediately fouled Montissol, who then calmly sank both free throws. 

“I was a little nervous but I had confidence in my shot,” Montissol said. “I was ready to wrap the game up.”

Alpharetta wouldn’t get another shot off.

Montissol was joined by junior Kalen Surles (15 points) as Lanier’s only other double-digit scorer. Surles also had five assists and five of Lanier’s 15 steals.

Ward matched Montissol with 19 points and Phillips added 12 for the Lady Raiders.