Class AAA Girls Finals: #1 Beach vs. #1 Laney

Photo by Ty Freeman

Saturday, March 7

Tipoff: 3:00 PM

(At Macon Centreplex)







Region 1, 26-5

Beach carries a 16-game win-streak into the finals and sits one win away from bringing back the school’s first state title since the 1999-2000 season that saw former head coach Ronald Booker earn GHSA Coach of the Year. Booker’s run as Beach head coach lasted 35 years until he retired after the 2012-13 season and his former player and assistant coach Olufemi Gordon took over the program. Gordon played under Booker from 1996-99 and graduated the year before the program’s only state title but she has done her part to get the Bulldogs’ back to Macon. Booker’s last season before retirement resulted in a 58-53 loss to Chapel Hill in the Elite 8 but Gordon got Beach back to the quarterfinals her first season and advanced to the semis before falling to eventual state champion St. Pius 67-53. This year, Gordon has once again made strides in the playoffs and her Bulldogs used a convincing 47-38 win over East Hall on Saturday to return to the finals for the first time since Booker’s historic championship run in 2000. Senior point guard Jacqueline Anderson drives the Beach offense and put up a team-high 17 points in the victory over East Hall. Anderson’s 5-foot-8 size and ability to score all over the floor opens up opportunities in the post for forward Dy’Manee Royal, who is coming off an 11-point performance in the semis. Anderson showcased her ability to get the foul line throughout the season, including a 15-for-15 night against Dodge County on Jan. 9. When Anderson struggles, Ilyn Spann can run the show. In their 57-42 second round win over Banks County, Anderson had not scored until there was 3:36 left in the game but Spann kept the team afloat with 17 points, 12 of which came before the half. With Spann pulling in defenders, Anderson finally found her stroke and netted 12 points in the closing 3:36 of the game.



Region 3, 28-3

The Wildcats are winners of 12 straight games and have seen a 23.5-point average margin of victory in the playoffs following Saturday’s 63-37 rout over Decatur in the semis. Now, Laney sits one win away from bringing the program its first state title. Senior Aliyah Collier contributes in all facets of the game and continues leading the offense with her 13.3 points per game this postseason but it will need to be the play of Collier’s surrounding cast to finally allow Laney to claim the coveted AAA state title. Collier turned in one of the best performances of the season in the win over Decatur on Saturday as she finished with 13 points, 17 rebounds (10 offensive), seven blocks, six steals and four assists. Sophomore Aubriana Bonner came up huge in Laney’s 70-64 quarterfinal victory over previously unbeaten Dawson County. She shot 8-of-14 from the field for a season-high 23 points and added four steals. Bonner is shooting 10-of-24 from three-point range this postseason (41.7 percent). Freshman standout De’Sha Benjamin continues her breakout season and the 6-foot-1 forward also went for a season-high in the win over Dawson County, shooting 8-of-13 from the field for 22 points. Benjamin followed the 22-point outburst with 11 points and 12 boards in the semifinals for her first double-double of the postseason. Benjamin enters the finals averaging 14.4 points per game and 8.3 rebounds. Sophomore Jasmine Bartlett has also played her best ball this postseason and scored a season-high 21 points in the 64-43 opening round victory over Westminster. Gemyia Bowman is the fifth Laney player that has notched at least 13 points this postseason and she hit the mark in the semifinals, while adding five rebounds. This array of scorers comes from an offense that dishes out 16.4 assists per game and a defense that creates scoring opportunities by forcing 18.1 steals per outing.

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