Class AAA girls: Laney 70, Beach 55

MACON – After years of coming up just short, it was finally Laney’s time. Senior Aliyah Collier made sure of it.

Collier scored 24 points, grabbed 19 rebounds, handed out eight assists, recorded seven steals and blocked four shots to lead Laney past Beach, 70-55, in the Class AAA girls state championship game at the Macon Centreplex.

The Wildcats had made it to the semifinals in six of the last seven state tournaments, but were never able to bring home a title to the Augusta high school. That changed Saturday.

Beach didn’t make it easy, though. The Bulldogs came to play and refused to give in, despite trailing by double-digits for much of the ragged game. Senior point guard Ilyn Spann hit consecutive 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to cut the Laney lead to 53-47 with four minutes to play. Spann fouled out a minute later, and Laney pulled away.

In 2013, Collier’s sophomore season, an undefeated Laney squad reached the state championship game. Collier fouled out with only seven points in a blowout loss to Wesleyan. She admits to shedding a few tears after that game. She had a few tears running down her cheeks again Saturday, as she was handed the state championship trophy.

“It’s unbelievable,” Collier said. “I was very confident that this was our year.”

Freshman forward De’Sha Benjamin finished with 18 points, and Aubriana Bonner added 16 to help Laney win its first state title.

“I’m exhausted, just so happy,” Laney coach Otis Smart said.

Beach senior guard Jacqueline Anderson led the Wildcats with 22 points, including four 3-pointers. Spann finished with 15 points.

Beach was down only five after an Anderson 3-pointer in the second quarter. That’s when Collier began to take over. She pushed the ball up the court, got to her left hand and converted at the rim multiple times during a 10-1 run to close out the first half. The Wildcats led 35-21 at intermission. Collier, Laney’s only senior starter, had 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists in the first half.

Anderson kept the Bulldogs in the game. Her 3-pointer from the top of the key cut the Laney lead to 37-29 with 4:09 left in the third quarter. Spann continued the Beach push with a 3-pointe r that cut the Laney lead to five with three minutes left in the third. The lead was down to three, before Collier jumpstarted a spurt with a pair of steals, leading to layups from Bonner.

Laney took a 44-35 lead into the fourth quarter, fended off a couple of Beach challenges before coasting down the stretch.

Asked how she’s going to celebrate, Collier giggled and said, “I don’t know, but it’s going to be big.”