0

HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL: Best of the best

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

GAME OF THE YEAR: Terrell County 76, Greenville 75: It will be forever known as simply "The Pass,'' and no one in Terrell County will ever forget Terel Hall's lightning dish to Markez Dotson that ended what might have been the most exciting game ever played in Dawson.

The Greenwave weren't supposed to do much this year, but there they were in the second round of the playoffs against fifth-ranked Greenville and Kentavious Pope, the top-rated Class A player in Georgia. Pope was as good as advertised, but the Greenwave just kept hanging in there all night, until finally Greenville made a late surge and seemingly put the game away.

Terrell County was down by four points with 20 seconds left, and then staged the most exciting comeback of the year, taking the lead, losing the lead, and then finally winning on a buzzer beater in the final breathtaking 20 ticks.

The Greenwave closed to within one point when Brian Browner hit three free throws, but then fell behind by two points before DeKoven Ware, who had just come off the bench because coach John Davis wanted another 3-point shooter, hit the biggest 3 of his life to lift Terrell County to a 74-73 lead.

But Pope rushed down the court and drove to the basket for a season-killing finger roll. The ball skipped in and out, but Will Bailey made a tip-in with 6.2 seconds left in the game to send the Greenville fans berserk thanks to a

75-74 lead.

The standing room only crowd was still in shock when Hall took the ball, darted up the court and zipped the biggest assist of his career to Dotson, who turned and banked in the winner at the buzzer for a 76-75 win that sent Terrell County to the Elite Eight.

The celebration that followed was sheer pandemonium, absolute madness as hundreds stormed the court. Davis cried tears of joy, and it felt like all of Terrell County was shouting to the heavens.

This was TRULY the Game of the Year.

BEST SHOT: Joshua Lewis, Dougherty. Few thought Dougherty had a chance against state power Liberty County. But there they were, Donald Poole's surprising Trojans going head-to-head with the fifth-ranked team in the state in the second round of the playoffs. And if that wasn't enough, Dougherty, which entered the tournament with a losing record, was on the road at Liberty County.

So what?

Dougherty beat the odds all night and gave Liberty County all it wanted in an inspirational game, but it looked like the season was over when Liberty County took a 58-56 lead in the final seconds. Lewis, a freshman who came off the bench late in the game for one reason (to shoot the 3), had already made one long bomb. Could he make another? Would he even try with the season on the line?

"Coach Poole said 'Don't be afraid to take the shot,' " Lewis said later.

He wasn't. Lewis launched one of his trademark rainbow 3s. Only this one was in the playoffs, at the buzzer with everything at stake, and when the ball hit the bottom of the net it sent Dougherty to the Elite Eight with the biggest second-round upset in the state, and arguably the biggest of the year.

BEST COMEBACK: Westover vs. South Atlanta. It was a rematch of last year's GHSA Class AAA state title game, only this was the in Elite Eight in Columbus, and South Atlanta towered over Westover all night. But the Patriots hung tough and managed to fight back from a seven-point deficit to make things close in the fourth quarter.

However, Westover looked doomed when both of its big men -- Chris Wheeler and Onochie Ochie -- fouled out early in the fourth. Villus Baker and Keon Miller came off the bench, and Baker, at 6-foot-4, was Westover's tallest player against South Atlanta's 6-8, 6-7, 6-7 front. But Baker was magical, Miller was tough and Malcolm Sapp was, well, Malcolm Sapp, hitting one big shot after another to complete a 20-point second half.

Somehow, Westover found a way with Baker hitting a big free throw to send the game into overtime at 62-62, and then the Patriots shut out the defending state champs in the extra frame while Baker scored four of Westover's five points (Shevren Keaton scored the other one) and the Patriots stormed into the Final Four with a 67-62 victory.

They still call Baker "Mr. Overtime'' at Westover.

BEST ATMOSPHERE: Monroe vs. Westover. If you couldn't get a ticket, don't feel alone. When Monroe and Westover played, it was a madhouse in the stands, where every game was packed to the gills. It was the toughest ticket in town, and for good reason. The rivalry has been around forever, but it was at its best this year when these two programs produced two of the best Class AAA boys teams in the state. With a little luck they could have met for the state title, but altogether they met three times and the atmosphere was electric at all three games. Regardless of who won -- Westover did, however, win two of three, including the Region 3-AAA title -- these three games said as much about Albany high school basketball and the passion this city has for the game as anything.

BEST NIGHT: Randolph-Clay's Destiny Mitchell scores 53 points in loss to Bainbridge. There were so many incredible performances this year from players such as Westover's Chris Wheeler, who had a 32-point night, and DyTiesha Dunson, who scored 31, to Dougherty's Arabian Williams and Worth's Josh Alford, who scored 30 three times, to Bainbridge's Alexis Burke, who scored 30 points on several occasions and dropped in 40 against East Gadsden (Fla.), and the Bearcats' Devon Baulkmon, who scored 33 in the playoffs.

But no one had a night like Destiny Mitchell.

Mitchell can do it all, and she did when Randolph-Clay met Herald No. 1 Bainbridge on Nov. 30. Mitchell took over early and flew up and down the court, hitting Bainbridge with spinning, stop-and-drop jumpers, scraping the glass and busting outside shots. When it was over Mitchell had a school-record 53 points, a career high and a night she will never forget.

BEST FINISH: Terrell Academy girls in Class A state title game. It just doesn't get any better than this. Terrell Academy's Lady Eagles, who had turned their season around, were trying to win their second consecutive GISA Class A state title. And it came down to one shot. It's everyone's dream to make that shot, the one that wins it all.

That dream came true for Alex Barfield, who found herself with the ball in a 42-42 tie against Fullington in the state title game. Barfield found her spot on the court, and had a clean look at the basket. The clock was ticking down -- 5 ... 4 ... 3 .... -- as Barfield launched the 3, and Terrell Academy went into jubilation when the ball popped through the net for the final: 45-42! State champs again.

BEST RUN: Bainbridge Bearcats win 20 games in a row. Bainbridge coach Rickey McCullough almost laughed whenever the subject came up of their 20-game win streak -- and it came up a lot during the Bearcats' run to the Class AAAA Final Four.

It was a run for the ages, and it came from a team no one expected to do much. McCullough, who lost all five starters from last year's Final Four team, knew his 2010 squad would be competitive, but he never dreamed just how well these kids would play.

"They just refuse to lose,'' McCullough said.

The Bearcats were 7-4 when the streak started. It began on Dec. 29 with a 40-35 victory over Godby (Fl.) and it didn't end until Bainbridge had won 20 games in a row and marched all the way to the Final Four in Atlanta, where the streak finally ended in a tough, bitter 50-46 loss to Mays.

BEST TURNAROUND: Monroe's girls. Monroe coach Cheryl Cheeks never refers to her players as girls. It's always "young ladies,'' and maybe that's part of why this team earned so much respect this season.

Monroe's Lady Tornadoes won only three games last season, and they were far too young and inexperienced to win much in 2010, right?

Wrong.

Cheeks did a marvelous coaching job and turned a group of non-basketball players into a force on the court as Monroe developed an unrelenting style of defense that drove teams nuts and forced turnovers like no other team in Southwest Georgia. With only one senior, Monroe not only reached the state tourney but upset seventh-ranked Rutland, 66-58, in the opening round of the playoffs before losing a tough game to LaGrange, which ended up making it to the Final Four.

HALFCOURT SHOT: DyTiesha Dunson, Westover. It wasn't just a half-court 3, it was a rainbow that didn't look like it had a chance until it bounced into the net.

DyTiesha Dunson's shot that ended the third quarter turned the see-saw game around to help lift Westover's girls past Monroe, 40-30, in a game Westover desperately needed to win.

"I just said, 'Oh yes,' exclaimed Dunson, who jumped in the air when the ball banked home.

"I just looked at that shot and said, 'How lucky can you be?' "

Monroe coach Cheryl Cheeks said. "That shot changed the game. It changed all the momentum."

Dunson's bomb made it 29-23, but it gave Westover a lift it needed.

"It was electrifying,'' said Westover center Danielle Glover. "It rejuvenated the whole gym. Even the Monroe people were shouting.''

Westover coach Lewis Smith knew exactly what the shot was worth.

"We needed a prayer and she gave us one,'' he said. "It changed everything. It was such a tight game.''

Westover, which had lost to Monroe earlier, needed that win to keep its hopes alive to host the Region 1-AAA tournament. The Lady Patriots did just that, and they didn't have another close game until after they had won the region title and marched to the second round of the playoffs.

BEST DUNK: Onochie Ochie, Westover. He had been out almost a month, and everyone at Westover couldn't wait for the return of Onochie Ochie, who had last been seen leaving the Westover gym on a stretcher, then rushed via ambulance to a hospital after taking a hard fall Jan. 8 in the opening moments of the first game against Monroe. Now, he was back on the road against Worth County in his first game since the fall. It was a matter of seconds for Ochie to make his point. On the first play of the game, Ochie soared and slammed home a dunk to remember.

It wasn't just one of Ochie's thunderous dunks, it was a message, a statement. Fans in the crowd shouted "Ochie's back! Ochie's back!'' Indeed he was. Westover was never the same, and marched all the way to the Final Four.

Ochie also won the dunk contest at the Deep South All-Star Classic at Darton with an ala-Vince Carter elbow on the rim slam that brought the house down, but there might not have been a more emphatic or memorable dunk all season than the one that marked his return that night in Sylvester.

BEST SOCKS: Alre'k Brown, Terrell County. It was a big game, Westover at Terrell County, but it became so much more when Greenwave star Alre'k Brown went to his teammates and asked them to honor his aunt, Elmonica Orr, who lost her battle with breast cancer earlier in the week, They paid tribute to Orr that night by wearing pink socks, and Brown, who fought back the tears afterward, had an inspirational game. He led Terrell County, which had lost to Westover earlier, to a 65-60 victory, scoring 20 points, including eight points in the final 95 seconds.

"She was like a sister to me,'' said Brown in a voice barely above a whisper after the game. "It was hard, hard to play the game, hard not to think about her. I played so bad Friday night because I couldn't get my mind off of her, but I prayed before the (Westover) game. I prayed for my auntie, and I prayed that I could get through the game -- to take it off me.''

Brown wore pink socks the rest of the season -- all the way to the Final Four.

BEST SLOGAN: Deerfield-Windsor Knights. There were many good slogans this season, but none fit better than the simple "Lets Get It Done'' mantra at DWS, where the Knights were trying to win their first state title since 2003. They had been to the last four Final Fours and played in the last two state title games, so coach Gordy Gruhl handed out T-shirts that read: "Let's Get It Done,'' and the Knights wore them on game days. Gruhl later said in his 27 years at DWS he had never had a team work harder in the offseason, and all that work paid off when the Knights won the title and finished the season at 28-1. They got it done.