It was a memorable season for both the Banks and Rabun girls, who came out of Region 8-AA as two of the best teams in the state. Tuesday night, however, the clock hit zero on both teams’ seasons.
#1 Laney 54, #1 Banks Co 38
Banks County trailed throughout in the 2A quarterfinals against the #1-ranked team in the state, defending champions Laney. The Lady Wildcats (30-0) got all they needed from De’Sha Benjamin, who tallied a game-best 23 points.
Laney, playing on the road, led 16-7 after one quarter, using a 5-0 run and putting Banks County (25-6) in a tough spot by Allison Smith racking up three fouls in the quarter. Benjamin notched 12 points in that first stanza.
The Lady Cats opened the second on a 6-0 run, and the Lady Leopards turned the ball over on four straight possessions. Laney, as it typically does, used the turnovers for fast break points. Despite the struggles, the Lady Leopards trailed only 27-16 at the break, very much still in the game.
Banks, ranked #2 in the state, traded buckets with Laney much of the third, but the visitors stretched the lead to 39-25 going into the final quarter. While Laney slowed down the pace, the Lady Leopards committed 8 turnovers in the third.
Smith, who was in foul trouble very early, fouled out with 5:37 to go in the game, ending her career. When the final buzzer sounded, Laney was in front 54-38. Jhessyka Williams and Nekiyah Booker both finished with 10 points for Laney. Banks County was led by Maddie Thomas (11 pts) and Amber Williams (9 pts), as well as Smith (7 pts).
The Lady Leopards made history in 2017-18, winning the Region 8-AA Championship, being ranked as high as #2 in the state, and finishing 25-6 overall, a program best. Coach Steve Shedd will bring back much of his team next season, however, will miss 1,000-point scorer Allison Smith and spark plug Lauren Shedd, as well as forwards Melinda Garrison and Morgan Lyons.
Stars Jaycie Bowen, Thomas, Kailyn Gilstrap and Williams will all return next season.
#1 Fitzgerald 70, #3 Rabun Co 65
Rabun County (24-7) saw its season come to a close with a valiant effort on the road in the Elite 8. Fitzgerald (17-5) trailed 4-0 early after a pair of Lady Cats’ baskets in the first. By the end of the quarter though, the Hurricanes led 14-8.
That lead widened to 36-25 by the break, leaving DeeDee Dillard’s girls searching for an answer. Things stayed relatively the same after the third quarter came to a close, with Fitzgerald up 48-36. With Jaden Quilliams in foul trouble for Rabun, she came out early in the fourth with the Lady Cats down 56-41.
Back-to-back Lady Cats buckets gave them momentum, and moments later Brooke Henricks hit a clutch 3-pointer to pull within 58-52. She then got another bucket seconds later to get within 58-54 with 3:15 to go. She wasn’t done, as she connected on a pair of free throws after getting fouled on a layup try. With 2:53 remaining, Henricks had pulled the girls within two points (58-56).
The 15-2 Lady Cats’ run was stunning, but Rabun couldn’t get that game-tying basket. With just over a minute on the clock, Fitzgerald had capitalized at the free throw line, going up 66-59. Despite pulling within five again, time ran out, as the Lady Cats fell 70-65.
Henricks closed with 11 points and 7 rebounds for Rabun County.
The season ends in a third straight quarterfinals or deeper run for Rabun, including another 20-plus win season. For Dillard, she’ll return a great portion of her lineup back next season with the exception of post players Quilliams and Jordan Haban.