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Malcolm in the middle

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Malcolm Sapp and McArthur Gaines might as well have stuck around and gone one-on-one for a couple of more hours.

Folks would have paid to have watched it.

Sapp and Westover survived against Gaines and Dougherty, 67-64, on Friday night and no one wanted to go home afterward.

This was pay-per-view stuff, as good as any big-time fight in recent memory. Westover kept knocking down Dougherty, and the Trojans just kept getting back up.

"I kept thinking we had put them away and they kept coming back,'' an elated Westover coach Dallis Smith said afterward. "They just didn't go away.''

News for Smith: Dougherty is not going anywhere.

The Trojans, No. 7 in the state Class AAA poll and No. 4 in The Herald's Top 5, may have gone home back over the river late Friday, but the Trojans (4-1, 1-1) are for real.

"Dougherty's good, real good,'' Smith said. "I can see why they are ranked.''

Both teams are ranked in the Top 10 in the state poll. Herald No. 2 Westover (4-2, and 2-0 in the region) is ranked No. 5 in the state Class AAA poll.

Nobody cared about the state rankings. This is Albany, where city bragging rights run deeper than any state poll, and the game lived up to its billing.

It didn't end until Sapp had lifted Westover on his shoulders, scoring 14 of 16 points in a crucial fourth quarter run, and Gaines, who spent the first four minutes of the fourth on the bench with four fouls, had stormed back on the court to finish with 28 points in an inspiring effort that included a flying 3-pointer with 24 seconds left to cut the lead to 65-62, right after Brandon Hudson had buried a long 3 from the corner to give Westover a 65-59 lead with 33 seconds left in the game.

"It hurts,'' said Gaines, a Herald Super 6er who helped lead Dougherty to the Elite Eight last year. "But we just have to go back to work and get better.''

While Gaines was on the bench in the fourth, little Josh Lewis was doing what he does best -- bombarding Westover with long-range rainbow 3s that sailed almost as high as they were long to keep Dougherty in the game.

Lewis, who finished with 14 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, was the epitome of Dougherty's get-off-the-floor night. It was Lewis who hit a long 3-pointer at the buzzer and literally fell on his back to end the first half to give the Trojans a 25-21 lead.

Then he took over for Gaines, nailing three 3s in the fourth, including a mind-boggling bank shot with 2:17 left that closed the score to 58-57 just seconds after Sapp had busted a 3-pointer on the other end.

"He was on fire,'' said Sapp, who was burning the place down at the other end of the court after missing five shots in a row at one stretch in the first half. He didn't miss a shot in the fourth quarter, going 6-for-6.

He hit a fade-way jumper to close to 49-46, then busted a 3-pointer with 4:51 left to knot the score before coming right back seconds later with a put-back that lifted Westover to a 51-49 lead with 3:55 left. Hudson, who finished with 11 points off the bench, was fouled on the play, and made both free throws, then Sapp scored the next seven points for Westover, ending his run with a steal and a drive to give the Patriots a 60-57 lead with 2:00 left.

"I was just trying to get us back in the game,'' said Sapp, who finished with 23 points, six rebounds and a block. "I missed a lot of shots in the first half, but I knew I had to keep trying to keep us in it.

"It was a great game. It's a rivalry, but we're used to playing games like this.''

The stretch was wild and frenetic, and the Patriots saw Joseph Harrell step up in the fourth to nail it down. Harrell, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half, finished with three blocks and eight rebounds, including a thundering dunk on a put-back with 1:07 left to give Westover a 62-59 lead, and after Hudson and Gaines had matched 3s, Harrell put the game away with a pair of free throws with 6.6 seconds to give Westover a 67-62 lead before Dougherty hit a shot at the buzzer for the final.

"Free throws win ball games,'' Harrell said.

It took a little of everything to win this one, including a personal comeback by Dequan Green, who couldn't buy a basket in the first half, before taking over for Westover, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the third quarter to lift the Patriots to a 42-38 lead.

Then it was back-and-forth to the buzzer.

"It was a great game for the fans, a great game for Albany,'' Dougherty coach Donald Poole said. "But we didn't come in here to play close. We came here to win the game.''

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WESTOVER GIRLS 46, DOUGHERTY 26:

Herald No. 1 Westover's undefeated Lady Patriots got a scare early from Herald No. 5 Dougherty, but pulled away with a defense that held Dougherty scoreless in the fourth quarter and stopped the Lady Trojans, who made just one shot and scored just three points in the second half.

Dougherty shot 50 percent from the field in the first half (8 of 16) then went 1-of 16 in the second half.

"It's a game we will never forget,'' said a dejected Dougherty coach Charlene Jackson, who had the perfect game plan for Westover.

Jackson's box-and-one defense worked in great part because Shawntal Byrd did incredible job guarding Westover Super 6er DyTiesha Dunson, who was being hounded and double-teamed all night. Dunson scored just two points in the first half and finished with seven. Dougherty led by as much as six points (19-13) in the second quarter.

With Dunson being tied up, Westover coach Lewis Smith went to Ieshia Young, who couldn't have responded any better.

Young, also a Herald Super 6er, led Westover's comeback, scoring all 13 points for the Lady Patriots (8-0 and 2-0 in Region 1-AAA) in the second quarter.

"We did everything we wanted to do and the game-plan went very very well,'' Jackson said. "But the game is two halves, not one half. We have to learn to put together four quarters.''

She was baffled by her team's poor shooting in the second half.

"We had so many opportunities,'' Jackson said.

Young hit a 3 to close to 22-21 and then hit a drive with 30 seconds left to lift Westover to a 23-22 halftime lead. She finished with a game-high 19 points. Kiandra Guilford led Dougherty with eight points.

"I had to take over,'' Young said. "I saw they were doubling Dytiesha, and coach told me to play point guard, so I did. I had to step up. Coach put the ball in my hands. I had to make it happen.''