Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

ALBANY - Dougherty High won four games last year. Westover won 27 en route to the Class AAA state title game.

But when it comes to this city rivalry game, anything can happen. The evidence is in last year's first meeting between the two, a mismatch on paper that went to overtime at Westover High. The Patriots won that game, but it's clear records won't mean much when Dougherty and Westover tip tonight in the first Class AAA city rivalry game of the 2009-10 season.

"It's bigger because it's the next game," said Trojans' senior and Herald Super 6 point guard Arabian Williams. "Everybody else in the city gets it hyped. We just come in and play and try to win the game. That's it."

Both the Trojans and Patriots are 1-0 in Region 1-AAA after Tuesday's wins -- Westover 88-62 over Crisp County and Dougherty 53-43 at Perry. It was Dougherty's first win of the season, but it was a sign the Trojans have begun to come together.

"We're trying to play better team ball," Dougherty head coach Donald Poole said. "We ain't got a whole lot of superstars like everybody else. Once they get that concept that we can play as a team, I think we'll be OK."

Williams scored 11 in the win at Perry in the region opener and MacArthur Gaines added 10 while the rest of the scoring was spread around. Westover did the same in its win, running its record to 5-0 with five different players scoring in double figures.

The Patriots have won six of the past eight meetings with Dougherty, but Westover's average margin of victory in those games, aside from a 21-point win last year in the second meeting, has been less than five.

No doubt, the cross-town rivalry brings out the best in both teams.

"The whole school is talking about it," said Williams, who averaged 18 points per game last year. "My whole family is talking about it. We're focused. We know they're a great team."

Westover's inside tandem of 6-foot-5 forward Chris Wheeler and 6-foot-6 forward Onochie Ochie could give Dougherty problems, along with sharpshooters Anthony Ball, Malcolm Sapp and Shevren Keaton.

Still, Poole expects the sweltering atmosphere of a packed house at Dougherty High will bring out the best in his team, which returns four starters.

"Our ultimate goal is to get better as we go," he said. "Everything else will take care of itself. Every game is important and that's the way we approach it. They got a real good squad over there. We know they're good, but we're going to try to work on what we can do to slow them down a little bit. I hope our kids meet the challenge of playing them tough."

The game that tips off first tonight could feature the best two teams in Region 1-AAA as it did a year ago, although neither Dougherty or Westover's girls are coming off impressive showings. The Lady Patriots (4-1, 1-0 Region 1-AAA) managed to pull out a 57-50 win over Crisp after blowing a 23-point lead in the third quarter. Dougherty (1-2, 0-1 Region 1-AAA) wasn't as fortunate, losing 63-55 at Perry.

The guard matchup between Dougherty senior Jessica Roberts and Westover sophomore DyTiesha Dunson should be a good one. Dougherty won both regular season games last year, but fell to the Lady Patriots in the region title game.

Only one Westover senior will likely see major minutes tonight with the absence of senior Danielle Glover, who is visiting Harvard this week. Dougherty's three senior starters, Roberts, Tiara Todd and Lakandra Banks, give Westover head coach Lewis Smith pause for concern.

"When you've got a ninth and 10th-grade team, you're going to have to learn composure," Smith said earlier this week. "We've got people in roles who have not been in these roles before."