ALBANY -- Just send those thank-you texts to Lewis Smith and his Westover girls basketball team. Don't be shy. Go ahead, Dougherty. Go ahead, Monroe. Don't let the city rivalry get in the way of this one.
Westover's girls not only won their biggest game of the season, but when they beat Peach County, 56-46, Monday afternoon at Westover, they saved countless high school basketball fans in town -- not to mention the teams from their two city-rivals -- from making 180-mile round-trips to Peach County Thursday and Friday.
"Everybody in Albany wanted us to win this game,'' said Westover's Ieshia Young, who scored 15 points to help Westover beat Peach County in a game that carried more weight than any other this season.
The Westover girls have been hearing for weeks how they had to beat Peach County on the final day of the season in order to earn home court during the semis and finals of the GHSA Region 1-AAA tournament.
They did just that.
"Oh, it feels great,'' said Smith, who had heard it from everyone at the school and beyond. "We don't have to ride. We don't have make that 90-minute trip to Peach County. Everybody is happy about that.''
The Boston Garden never looked better. Westover's girls will be back Thursday to meet the winner of today's Monroe-Dougherty game in the region semifinals, and the Westover boys and Monroe boys also will be at Westover Thursday for semifinal games. If those two boys powerhouses win, they would meet for Round 3 at 8:30 p.m. on Friday at Westover for the title. They split the first two games, which both drew standing-room-only crowds for one of best rivalries anywhere in the state. Had Peach County won the girls game Monday, that potential classic showdown would have been 90 miles north of Albany.
Send your thank you's to the Westover girls. ...
Westover wins home court because this year's tournament site is determined by the girls winner. Next year, the boys winner will be the host school. Westover (22-3) and Peach were both 11-2 going into Monday's showdown -- a game that had been postponed twice because of the snow that hit Georgia on Friday. To make the delays even worse for the Lady Pats, Peach County was the last team to beat Westover (55-50) back on Jan. 15.
The snow fell and the messages just kept coming during the delays.
"I had so many people texting me,'' Westover point guard DyTiesha Dunson said. "Everybody said the same thing, 'Please win this game so I don't have to go to Peach County.' "
Dunson must have taken it personally.
At least it looked that way. She did a little bit of everything, scoring a game-high 22 points, grabbing four rebounds, handing out three assists, making three steals and blocking a shot.
Dunson ended the first quarter by driving the length of the court and busting a 10-foot jumper at the buzzer to lift Westover to a 12-11 lead, and she ended the half with a pair of free throws with six seconds left to give the Lady Patriots a 28-23 lead. Then she opened the second half with a drive and a spinning stop-and-go move that left Peach County helpless. It was Dunson, Dunson and more Dunson as she scored eight of Westover's 13 points in the third to help build the lead to 41-31.
She simply took over the game.
"That's what she does. She takes over,'' Smith said. "That's exactly what we needed. When things are not going good we try to go to her.''
Things were not going well for Westover early. The score was tied seven times in the first 10 minutes of play, before Peach Coaunty ripped off a 5-0 run to grab a 23-18 lead with about four minutes left in the half. Peach was doing everything right, forcing turnovers (11 in the first half) and beating Westover on the boards 2-to-1.
Then Dunson beat the press by herself, pulled up and hit a long jumper. Then she grabbed a long rebound and drove the court to close her team within, 23-22. Young followed that play with a steal and a drive, and Westover was suddenly up, 24-23. The Lady Pats never trailed again. They closed out the half with a 10-0 run and never let Peach County get back in the game.
The Lady Patriots got another big game from Danielle Glover, who came off the bench to score five points, grab seven rebounds and block two shots. Latisha Williams scored six points, grabbed six rebounds, made two steals and blocked a shot.
Peach County, which made four of its first seven shots -- on easy drives and backdoor plays -- went as cold as this Georgia winter. The Lady Trojans missed their final five shots in the first half and went 1 for their first 11 shots in the third. That's 1 for 16 shooting during that stretch. Peach County went 2 for 14 in the third and missed the first eight shots in the fourth quarter. By that time, Westover had built the lead to 50-32 with 5:09 left in the game.
"The difference in the game was the gym,'' Smith said. "They aren't used to shooting in this gym and they missed the same shots they made when we played them in their gym. The gym helped us win. It's different when you play at home in front of your people.'''
Westover's defense didn't help Peach either. Westover has now won 10 in a row, and has given up an average of only 32 points during that streak. Peach scored 13 points in the last four minutes of the game to become the only team to score more than 41 on Westover in the last 10 games.
"We stepped up our defense, and that's what won the game,'' Dunson said. "I'm so happy we won. We don't have to take that trip.''