Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

SYLVESTER -- Can one game turn a season around?

How about one quarter?

What about one four-minute stretch of basketball?

"I hope so. It could,'' said Westover Patriots coach Dallis Smith, whose team had limped out of the gate at 2-2 before Tuesday.

Don't worry. This is Westover, where every year is a good year, and just because the Pats returned just one starter from last year's Final Four team doesn't change the way Smith feels about where his team needs to be -- back in the Final Four.

And the Patriots looked a lot more like...well, the Patriots on Tuesday night in an impressive 63-48 victory against Worth County in the Region 1-AAA opener.

"We have a long way to go, but I think we can get there,'' Smith said.

Games like the one Tuesday will help. The Patriots were down 8-4 in the opening minutes, then ripped off a 15-0 run to take charge for the night.

The turnaround was that quick, that dramatic and that decisive, and it gives hope to every Westover fan.

"That run felt really good. It reminded me of last year,'' said Malcolm Sapp, a Super 6er and the only returning starter for Westover.

He might be the only one back, but no one shoots like Sapp, who was 5-for-5 in the first quarter and 6-for-7 for the night to finish with 13 points.

He scored five of those during the 15-0 run and Dequan Green scored the other 10. Get used to it. That Sapp-Green connection is at the heart of this year's Westover team.

"That was Westover basketball,'' Green said of the quick-hit run. "We just turned the intensity up. Everyone was rotating to the ball and playing good defense.''

And Green seemed to be everywhere he needed to be, picking up four steals during the run and driving for three fastbreak baskets. He scored 10 points in the first quarter and finished with 19 for the night.

Westover took control, and even with several backups playing a large part of the game the Patriots built the lead to 40-22 by halftime, and led 55-31 going into the fourth quarter.

"We didn't handle their half-court press,'' Worth coach Arthur Davis said. "We had 13 turnovers in the first half. That was the turning point. But take your hat off to Westover. They made us turn it over.''

Take your hat off to Worth, too, because the Rams (4-2) came back from a 26-point deficit to make it interesting at the end. Timothy Gaint hit four 3-pointers, including three in the fourth quarter to finish with a team-high 13 points, and his drive with 1:48 left in the game cut Westover's lead to 60-48.

"We continued to play hard. I was proud of their effort in the second half,'' said Davis, who had not lost a game in Georgia until Tuesday. But it was costly, because it was a region game, the first of the year.

"We've been preaching how big this game was because it is a region game,'' said Smith, whose team won the region last year and then watched second place Monroe and third place Dougherty make strong runs in the playoffs. "I thought we came out with a lot of energy at the beginning of the game. We're lacking experience this year, but we're getting better.''

That's the idea, and Smith had plenty to to build on Tuesday, because he played 16 kids, and nine scored. Joseph Harrell had a big night with three blocked shots and Kenneth Towns led Westover with nine rebounds to go with his four points. Trent Brown and Brandon Hudson came off the bench to score five points each. Hudson also had a block, three rebounds an assist.

Like Smith said, it may be a long road to get there, but he believes his team will make the journey.

"I think we'll get there, too,'' Sapp said. We just have to clean up the little mistakes and keep getting better.''

The Patriots (3-2 and 1-0 in Region 1-AAA) will get their chance on Friday at home against city and region rival Dougherty.

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WESTOVER GIRLS 63, WORTH COUNTY 15: There are fast starts, and then there are fast starts -- and then there's what the Westover girls did on Tuesday night against Worth County when they jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first four minutes of the game. By the time Jenna Colley hit a drive to make it 21-0 with 4:00 left in the first quarter all of Westover's starters were already in the bench.

Cessily Colwell, a starter, finished with 14 points and starters DyTiesha Dunson and Latisha Williams scored nine each, but backups (17 played and 11 scored) played most of the night as 16 players saw action in the first quarter alone.

No one has started faster than Westover, which is now 7-0 and 1-0 in Region 1-AAA after beating Worth (0-5, 0-1).

"I'm more than pleased the way we have started,'' Westover coach Lewis Smith said. "We worked hard in the summer and in the offseason we have been doing things to get better.''

Still, Smith is surprised.

"I didn't think we would be playing this well, '' Smith said. "Especially our defense. We have been playing really good defense.''

It shows. Westover forced 12 turnovers in the first quarter, and Kahler Fletcher, who hit a 3-pointer to start the game off, made five steals on her own.

"We know each other so well,'' Fletcher said. "We know where everybody is on the court. That's why we're playing so well right now. We're used to playing together.''

Smith, who saw four starters return from last year's state-ranked team, knows this team could be special.

"If we were taller I would really be excited,'' he said. "But we are what we are. Our skill level as a team is high. That's what make us look so athletic. Our strength is our basketball skills and our basketball I.Q -- knowing how to play the game.''

And one more thing.

"Chemistry,'' said Dunson, Super 6er who is the floor leader for Westover. "We've got good chemistry. We've been playing together since ninth grade and right now everything is just clicking.''

Worth County is rebuilding, but the future looks bright for the Lady Rams, who have six freshmen on the team, including two starters.

Shanna Tucker, a junior, led Worth with seven points.

"We're a young team,'' said Worth girls coach Salisha Zinnamon. "It's a big step going from middle school to the high school game, and we have six freshman. But things will get better. We just didn't play well in this game.''