By Derrick Mahone
Henry County coach Carl Caputa and his Laney counterpart Otis Smart shared similar thoughts about the teams second round Class AA playoff game.
Both called it the state championship game, and they had good reason.
Laney junior guard Mykala Jones hit a pair of free throws with two seconds remaining to give the third-ranked Wildcats a 94-93 overtime win Wednesday.
The game wasn't in hand until Henry County's Ashley Johnson's halfcourt shot banked hard off the rim as the buzzer sounded. It was a game that saw 24 ties and 37 lead changes.
"This, in my opinion, was the championship game," Caputa said moments after the game. "This is the best game I've ever seen. You are talking about two very good teams."
"I thought this game was for the state championship," he said. "(Mykala) hit some clutch free throws. We seemed out of the game, but my girls never gave up."
Laney seemed in control of the game in the overtime period with a 90-86 with 1:05 remaining, but three turnovers on four possessions allowed Henry County to take the lead.
Lady Hawks guard Briana Williams, who scored a career-high 51 points, gave the them the lead at 93-90 with 31 seconds remaining on a three-point play. But Lester scored a layup as the Wildcats trailed by a point.
On the next possession, Williams missed a shot, which was rebounded by Laney. Jones was fouled, and then calmly walked to the line and put the Wildcats ahead.
Caputa refused to question Williams to take a shot with the team holding a one-point lead with under 10 seconds remaining.
"We told them to hold the ball, but we are not going to point fingers," he said. "Her decision is her decision. That was the state championship, and it is unfortunate that only one team gets to advance."
Williams provided the Lady Hawks with a lot of offensive firepower in the last three games by averaging 41 points during that stretch, which included winning the Region 4-AA championship.
"She is unstoppable," Smart said. "I've never seen a player like her this year."
Laney had an opportunity to win the game in regulation, but Alexis Lester committed a turnover at the buzzer. Williams tied the game at 82-82 with 33 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Wildcats played the last four minutes of regulation and the entire overtime period without their two key inside players Chelsea Maultsby and Simmone Smith, who each fouled out. They each scored 15 points a piece.
"I just told the kids to do what we do best," Smart said. "We played some good teams this season and it paid off tonight. My hats off to Henry County, they played a great game. We really got ourselves together late in the game."
Henry County fell behind early in the first quarter as they trailed by as many as 13 before making a second quarter run. Laney led 41-40 at the intermission despite 24 first-half points from Williams, who signed to play at Mercer earlier this season.
Laney will advance to the quarterfinals this weekend to play the winner of the Thomasville/Dodge County game at Georgia Southwestern in Americus.
Last season, Henry County advanced to the state semifinals. Caputa said this season's senior class has left a big legacy for the upcoming players to follow.
"This group was one of the best in the state," he said. "Laney is a great team with a great coach. We made a comeback. This was a tough one."