By Seth Ellerbee
Macon – Lanier High School won its first-ever state championship title in any sport with a 52-45 victory against Lovejoy in the Class AAAAAA girls basketball title game Saturday. The Longhorns put together a 21-8 run in the fourth quarter to put away the game after being behind 26-21 at the half.
Lanier is in its ninth season since the school opened in 2010 and is playing in its seventh varsity season. Coach Tim Slater entered the season as the third Longhorns coach in as many years. His team finished 29-3.
“It means so much for these seniors,” said Slater. “All they’ve been through, how much work they’ve put into it and how hard they play. You can see that in every minute of every game we’ve ever played. Sure, it’s my first year here, but it is not their first year. Those girls, they played their tails off. They played about as hard as a team could play. I can’t tell you how proud I am of my seniors and how proud I am of my team.”
Entering the fourth quarter, Lovejoy was nursing a 37-31 lead, but Lanier cut the margins to 37-36 on a Nala Lawrence 3-pointer with 6:52 left and a Kalen Surles lay-up 38 seconds later. Lanier took the lead with 5:51 left on a Surles floater from just inside the free-throw line, but Lovejoy went back on top with a Bryana Hardy layup eight seconds later.
Mariah Spain added to the Wildcats' lead with a layup with 4:33 left to put Lovejoy ahead 41-38, but Lanier tied it with 3:35 left on a Surles 3-pointer from the left corner. Lanier went ahead on a Campbell basket with 3:09 left and Christabel Ezumah extended the lead to 46-41 on a 3-point play with 2:18 remaining.
Mekala Fuller pushed the margin to 48-41 on two free throws with 1:33 left. but Lovejoy responded with a Genesis Bryant 3-pointer just seconds later to make it a four-point game. With 39.1 seconds left, Lanier’s Campbell had a chance to put the Longhorns ahead by six but she missed both free throws.
On the other end, Boyd was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 32.9 seconds left but converted one-of-three to make it a 48-45 game. Lovejoy had no choice but to foul.
Fuller was the first to the foul line and her one free throw made it a two-possession game, 49-45. Lovejoy put up a desperation 3-pointer with 25 seconds left which missed, and Lanier controlled the rebound. Ezumah converted one-of-two from the line to make it a five-point game, 50-45. Fuller added an insurance free throw with 13 seconds left and another with 2.7 seconds remaining, and Lanier had its title.
“We knew Lovejoy was a heck of a team and coach (Cedric) King does such a good job,” said Slater. “Obviously they have tremendous players, and we knew it was going to be a battle. We just had to stay calm. There were a lot of times where it kind of got away from us, but in the end, just having those girls that believe in themselves made the difference.”
As the state runner up, Lovejoy finished the season at 29-4.
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