Randolph-Clay's Kanekia Washington led a fourth-quarter charge that lifted the state No. 1 Lady Red Devils right where they belonged: in Thursday's Class A state final.
WHO: Randolph-Clay girls (No. 1 seed) vs. Gordon Lee (No. 6).
WHAT: GHSA Class A state championship game.
WHEN: 3 p.m. Thursday.
WHERE: Fort Valley State.
FORT VALLEY — Randolph-Clay coach Jennifer Acree pointed at Kanekia Washington and asked her for her best eight minutes of basketball.
The Randolph-Clay senior might have given her coach the best eight minutes of her life.
It was a fourth quarter for the ages for the Lady Red Devils — one that kept a dream season alive and sent them into the Class A state title game for the first time in nearly a decade.
The Herald and state No. 1 Lady Red Devils outscored No. 4 seed Wilkinson County, 23-3, in the final frame with Washington scoring 12 of her game-high 20 points, turning a close game into a 57-34 victory Friday night in Fort Valley.
“Kanekia was amazing,” Acree said. “She was probably the most nervous out of all of them. I told her to get her head in it just before the fourth quarter started. I pointed to her and Brianna Thornton and asked them to give me eight minutes. I needed them to step up.”
Washington had gone scoreless the previous eight minutes heading into the fourth quarter, but she knocked down 5 of 7 field goals and was a perfect 2-for-2 from the line in the final period to send the Lady Red Devils to their 19th straight win.
“We knew it was win or go home,” Washington said. “(Coach Acree) told us to play hard, (that) our nerves were gone and to just play ball.”
Acree pleaded for Washington and her fellow seniors to play like the No. 1 team in the state during the final quarter.
“I asked them to give me their best eight minutes, because if you don’t, it’s all over,” Acree said.
What was Washington’s response?
“Look at the score,” Acree said.
Washington and the Lady Red Devils played the kind of ball that likely left Gordon Lee — which won the first semifinal game against Towns County and will play R-C in Thursday’s championship — trembling.
“I don’t think (the championship) is going to be a close game,” Wilkinson County coach Jenean Cooper-Bolston said. “I said earlier when I watched the first game that (Friday) would be the championship game.”
Randolph-Clay has now won 29 of its last 30 games, but the Lady Red Devils had to fight off a Wilkinson County team that hung around for the first three quarters and even tied the game with 40 seconds left in the third quarter.
However, a 3-pointer from R-C’s Crystal Ricks at the end of the third sparked a 26-3 run that kept the Lady Red Devils’ season alive.
“That’s the best fourth quarter we have played all season,” R-C senior point guard Adriana Blackmon said. “We stepped up. Our fans motivated us, and we got together and were thinking, ‘We are almost there. We are almost there. We are one step away from the championship game.’ ”
Now there’s just one step left for them to take.
“The journey has been wonderful,” Acree said. “We have had some ups and downs, but through it all we have been able to bond together and make this almost a dream come true. The seniors do not want this to end. It’s going to end, but now it’s about whether we will have the good cry or the bad cry. Those 13 young ladies in there believe it’s going to be a good cry.”
R-C freshman phenom Kobi Thornton and her older sister, Brianna, took control of the paint early and dominated the glass all night. Kobi (10 points, 13 rebounds, 5 blocks) and Brianna (5 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks) held Wilkinson’s star post player, junior Lyric Jordan, to 11 points on 5 of 12 from the field.
Blackmon also finished with 12 points, but it was a trio of bench players — Ricks, Shaalyah Lewis and Kadera Parham — that entered the game late in the third quarter to spark R-C’s run.
“You aren’t going to see it in the stat line, because the three that came off the bench were defensive-minded,” Acree said. “They gave us a spark, and our five starters brought it on home.”
R-C jumped out to an 8-2 lead, but that was the biggest lead for either team in the first three quarters. Wilkinson grabbed its biggest lead of the game — a three-point advantage — at the beginning of the second quarter when Ja’Tosjah Bolston hit back-to-back 3-pointers.
“None of my girls have been here, so I expected the nerves from top to bottom,” Acree said. “They showed it, but we got it settled and were able to do what we do.”
The Lady Red Devils retook the lead two minutes later on a Washington steal and lay-in and then held Wilkinson to just five field goals the rest of the game — including none in the final nine minutes.
It was the kind of finish that defines a team that just won’t quit.
And now the Lady Red Devils have just one more step.
“We are going to take it home (Thursday),” Washington said. “We are going to win it, and then we are going to cry tears of joy.”