ALBANY -- They just couldn't stop smiling.
"Awesome, awesome, awesome -- that's how it feels to beat them,'' said Westover's Cessily Colwell after Westover's girls basketball team won the rubber match with city rival Monroe Thursday night. "We beat Monroe, and (now) we're in the championship."
That's succinct, and absolutely correct. But Westover's 55-47 win in the region semifinals Thursday means so much more around Albany, where these two rivals have both had big seasons. Both head to the state tournament next week. Herald No. 3 Westover (23-3) will face Peach County tonight at 7 p.m. for the Region 1-AAA title, and Monroe (12-11) will face Crisp at 4 p.m. in the consolation game.
Monroe and Westover had split games this season, each winning on each other's court before facing off at Westover on Thursday.
"It feels so good to win this game,'' said Westover's DyTiesha Dunson, who scored 11 points and made five steals. "It's because of the rivalry, because there is so much passion and so much emotion in this game.''
Monroe had to come back from 16 points to win, 61-56, the first meeting at Westover this year, but the Lady Pats came back and beat the Lady Tornadoes, 40-30, two weeks ago at Monroe -- and had to come back again Thursday.
Monroe, which was led by its only senior, Lakiesha Jackson (12 points), jumped out to a 13-10 lead and was still up by three when Dunson hit a shot at the halftime buzzer to close to 21-20.
Then it was all Westover.
Latisha Williams said she had her best game of the year, and it was difficult to argue. She scored six points, grabbed five rebounds, blocked a shot and made two steals -- all in the third quarter. That's when Westover made its run -- an 18-9 sprint that started with a Williams 10-footer and a putback by Colewell, who finished with 10 points. Then Williams had a slick assist to Ieshia Young, who led the way with a 14-point game, and suddenly Westover was up, 26-23. Dunson followed that play with a steal and an assist to Colwell, who completed the and-one play for a 29-23 lead.
And Westover never trailed again.
"That's the best game I've had since coming back (Jan. 8) from a dislocated shoulder,'' said Williams, who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds. "It was really big to beat them. Now we have Peach County, and they're like Monroe. You have to come out and match their energy. That's what we did (Thursday night), because Monroe plays with so much energy.''
But in the end Monroe could never get closer than five points.
"They got the momentum in the third quarter, and we just couldn't catch them,'' Monroe coach Cheryl Cheeks said. "We kept turning the ball over, and we missed a lot of opportunities.''
Monroe lives off of getting turnovers with its unrelenting pressure and unmatched speed, but Westover, which turned the ball over 28 times in the last meeting, made just three turnovers in the second half -- turning the game around.
"All we worked on in practice was beating their press,'' said Dunson, who runs the offense. "We knew we had to take care of the ball against them.''
And in the end, Westover took care of the three-game series.
"That was the big game, because it broke the tie and put us in the region championship,'' Westover coach Lewis Smith said. "It's a great win for us, because they have such a good team. We took care of the ball (Thursday night) and didn't turn it over against them. It's a great rivalry, and that was a great game.''