CUTHBERT -- After watching his team fade down the stretch against cross-town rival Monroe, losing, 61-56, Friday night, Westover girls coach Lewis Smith admitted to dreading Saturday's drive to Randolph-Clay, which is ranked second in both GHSA Class A and The Herald's Top 5 poll.
"I know how we struggled against Randolph-Clay's press the last time against them (a 59-48 loss), and I wasn't sure how we would respond after losing against Monroe," Smith said.
The Herald's No. 3-ranked Lady Patriots, however, overcame a five-point deficit in Saturday's fourth quarter and won, 55-48. That left Smith in a better frame of mind after the Monroe game, in which his Lady Patriots blew a 16-point lead.
"When you're dealing with 16-year-old girls, and you come down and beat the No. 2 team in the state in Class A, it really validates our style of play," Smith said. "It does not make up for Friday's loss, but it just re-validates that we can play with the best of them."
The Lady Patriots' Cessiley Colwell scored 10 of her 17 points during the fourth quarter, helping lead the charge after Westover trailed Randolph-Clay, 40-35. Meanwhile, the Lady Red Devils' Destiny Mitchell finished with 23 points, followed by Asha Alexander and Donna Jones with 11 points each. Last season, Randolph-Clay coach Jennifer Acree has expressed frustration at times this season about the feeling her players depended on Mitchell too often.
And on Saturday, she had that feeling again.
"We had girls out there just standing, watching Destiny play," said Acree, whose team is 12-3. "And when we do that, that just leads to problems for us. We can't do that."
Case in point: During the Lady Red Devils' win Dec. 4 against Westover, Mitchell scored 28, followed by Alexander with 21. Also that night, Westover was outscored, 27-18, during the second and third quarters combined. Smith, looking back, felt that was a result of the Lady Red Devils' pressure defense.
On Saturday, however, the Lady Patriots (10-2) seemed to have little trouble pushing the ball upcourt and put together a solid fourth quarter.
"We broke that press consistently, we knocked down free throws (8-of-12) and those were just some of the things we did not do Friday," Smith said.
Colwell also seemed to have little trouble scoring inside.
"We ran a pattern that we are familiar with but we don't run that often and found (Colwell) a lot and she scored on layups or putbacks for us," Smith said. "She put us where we needed to be."
Colwell was just happy to have a different postgame feeling from the one against Monroe.
"We just wanted to redeem ourselves and just show what we are capable of doing," Colwell said. "We had to push it late so we could get our revenge."
Smith, on the other hand, said he just wants to keep seeing the style of play that was displayed Saturday night.
"When you have a team this young, you never know entirely what you are going to get on the court," Smith smiled. "Hopefully, we'll see more of this."
WESTOVER BOYS 61, RANDOLPH-CLAY 55:
ALBANY - Westover High School's Malcolm Sapp rediscovered his shooting touch, and the Patriots were back to their winning ways.
The Patriots, ranked second in The Herald's weekly poll, rebounded from Friday's loss against No.1 Monroe and defeated Randolph-Clay, 61-55, on Saturday night.
"It's good just to get back in the 'W' column," said Patriots coach Dallis Smith, whose team is 12-1. "We needed to get back to our winning ways and it started off (Saturday)."
It was likely an important win just to help the team move past star Onochie Ochie's injury from Friday's 61-58 loss against Monroe. During the game, Ochie took a hard arm across his chest early against Monroe and collapsed, falling face-first onto the floor and was released from the hospital early Saturday.
"I knew we were going to be sluggish at first because everyone's minds are still on Onochie," Smith said.
Sapp had a lot to do with Saturday's win, however, making three 3-pointers during the first quarter and finishing with 22 points. Sapp, who struggled during Friday's loss against Monroe, did not need a pregame pep talk.
"I didn't say a word to him," Smith said. "With shooters like that, you know they will keep shooting and they will get out of the slump and he did that (Saturday). He played well."
Sapp just maintained his focus.
"I took my time and concentrated on my shot," Sapp said.
Westover held on to a 27-26 halftime lead and then used its pressure defense to create turnovers and an 8-2 run to distance itself from the Red Devils.
"Our press was better," Smith said. "We started moving around better. We hadn't been running it a lot, but we ran it (Saturday) pretty good."
The Patriots' Chris Wheeler scored 12 points, followed by Anthony Ball with 10. Randolph-Clay, on the other hand, was led by Zuriel Muhammed with 15 points, followed by Cardaryle Curry with 13.
"In the third quarter (Westover) came out with more intensity," first-year Red Devils coach Oglesby Jackson said. "They just made some huge 3-pointers. I like what I saw, though, (Saturday). If we keep playing the way we did against Westover, we should be fine in our region (GHSA 1A-A)."