Kiara Pankins has played in five different 43rd District finals in five different gyms. She left each one with a piece of net at the end.
Lafayette’s star senior played for the first time in eight games to help the Generals defeat Paul Laurence Dunbar, 67-58, in the 43rd District finals Friday night at Lexington Catholic.
“There’s nobody else that I’ve coached that’s gotten to cut down the net five different times,” Lafayette Coach Allison Denton said.
Pankins was sidelined the previous three weeks with a concussion she suffered during a game at Woodford County. She finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks for the Generals, who won their fifth straight district championship.
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“It was horrible” to sit on the bench and not be able to help her team for most of February, “but I only have one head so I head to listen” to doctors’ orders, Pankins said.
Pankins was worried that, because much of its offense works through her, Lafayette would have trouble putting up points in her absence. The Generals failed to break 60 points only twice without their lone senior during that stretch.
“They really stepped up,” Pankins said. “I’m so proud of them.”
Terry Abram, a junior, led Lafayette with 20 points. Tekiya Garr-Carter, also a junior, finished with 13 points.
The Generals took an eight-point lead into the fourth quarter but were riddled with fouls. Sophomore Lindi DeBilzan had four going into the period but managed to avoid a fifth. Pankins picked up her fourth late in the period and Garr-Carter fouled out after picking up two inside the final two minutes.
Ultimately the foul trouble didn’t affect their aggression on defense. Weeks without Pankins led to many occasions where half the team was playing with four fouls by the end, Denton said.
“They gained a lot of confidence from me … to leave them in,” Denton said.
Dunbar fell to Lafayette for the second straight year in the finals. Both teams will play in the 11th Region tournament, which begins Monday. The tournament draw will be held Saturday morning.
Denton felt good about that Lafayette ability to make a run next week in Richmond.
“We have just as a good a shot as anybody that’s in it,” Denton said. “That’s how we’re gonna play every single game from here on out: Believing that we can do it.”
Dunbar committed 21 turnovers, several unforced. Those mental lapses, along with free-throw shooting (14 of 21) were the Bulldogs’ biggest undoing, Coach Nick Runyon said.
“They came out and made a few more plays than we did,” Runyon said. “ … It’s obviously not the result we were hoping for but we live to go on another day.”
Runyon also expressed faith in his team’s ability to make its 11th Region stay a long one. Both the Bulldogs and Generals will be chasing Franklin County, ranked eighth overall in the state and favored to win its third straight region crown. Each lost to the Flyers in the regular season.
“We know that we can play with and potentially beat anybody there,” Runyon said.
Autumn Herriford led Dunbar with 16 points. Mashayla Cecil and Peyton Humphreys each finished with 15 points for the Bulldogs.
Girls’ finals: Lafayette 67, Paul Laurence Dunbar 58
Lafayette (22-9) — DeBilzan 7, Bennett 8, Abram 20, Garr-Carter 13, Pankins 10, Goff 9.
Dunbar (19-11) — Herriford 16, Peyton Humphreys 15, Cecil 15, Fullwood 6, Cotton 4, Franklin 2.