Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

COLUMBUS -- It was a nightmare, the worst kind. The kind you can't wake up from. Westover's season was about to end -- and to the same team that beat the Patriots a year ago.

Instead, it became a dream -- one that ended with the Patriots winning, 67-62, in overtime to advance back to the GHSA Class AAA Final Four.

Initially, it was shaping up to be the worst night of the year for Westover -- a night when sharpshooter Malcolm Sapp missed all eight shots in the first half; a night when both Onochie Ochie and Chris Wheeler fouled out, and a night when South Atlanta's big front were playing bigger than the Westin building in downtown Atlanta.

The South Atlanta big men dominated for 31 minutes.

Then Westover -- with both its big men on the bench -- grabbed the game by the throat and staged one of the biggest comebacks in this school's long and storied history. The kind that would have made Willie Boston proud.

"Drained, I'm just drained,'' said Westover coach Dallis Smith, whose team somehow found a way to come back and beat second-ranked South Atlanta in overtime to avenge last year's state title game loss and send the Patriots flying into the GHSA Class AAA Final Four.

They left the Elite Eight and Columbus State 10 feet off the ground, hearts still pounding, glad to be alive, headed for Macon against Columbia on Friday night.

"It's Westover time,'' said point guard Shevren Keaton, who helped keep his team together in the middle of the abyss. "We've got great heart. We didn't want this to be our last game. We didn't want it to end.''

It didn't.

And it didn't because of as furious final minute in regulation and a determined defense that didn't allow a point in OT. That's right. This was arguably the biggest, most important shutout in Westover history, a 5-0 run, thanks in great part to a couple of part-time players who had the games of their lives. Keion Miller and Villus Baker came off the bench and lifted the Pats on their shoulders.

"Those two kids really swelled up (Saturday night),'' Smith said. "They're the sixth and seventh guys and they came in and really played well. I'm so proud of all of them. They just kept fighting to the end. That's what Westover is all about.''

The kids wanted to share this one.

"Talk to them, talk to them,'' shouted almost every player in the Westover locker room, pointing to Miller, who had some huge rebounds down the stretch, and Baker, who scored six of the biggest points in the game.

It was Baker who made the final free throw in regulation that knotted the score at 62-62 with 20 seconds left to send it to OT. And it was Baker again who banked in a drive to give Westover a 64-62 lead in OT, and -- after Keaton had made a free throw to lift the Pats to 65-62 -- it was Baker who sealed it with two free throws with 8 seconds left.

"I looked over and saw Chris Wheeler and Ochie,'' Baker said. "I didn't want this to be their last game. They're like my brothers.''

Brotherhood like this the stuff of legends -- just like this comeback.

Ochie (14 points) Anthony ball (14 points) and Sapp all had double figures.

Sapp, who has been the hottest shooter in Southwest Georgia in big games this season, couldn't find the basket in the first half, but scored 20 of his game-high 21 points in the second half, including a monster 3 with 1:09 left in regulation that closed the gap to 60-59.

Fifth-ranked Westover (24-4) trailed almost the entire game and was down by 10 at one point, but grabbed its first lead since the opening minutes when Sapp (who else?) nailed two free throws with 27 seconds left to lift the Pats to 61-60. Dominique McCoy made South Atlanta's final basket of the season to give the Hornets a 62-61 lead with 22 seconds left but Baker made one of two free throws to send it to OT.

"Once we got into overtime I went to a 2 defense, a zone,'' Smith said. "They were killing us on the boards..''

The 6-9, 6-7, 6-6 front -- McCoy (15), Rashaud Bell (18) and Nick Jacobs (16) -- combined for 49 of South Atlanta's 62 points inside, but couldn't score in OT on a Westover five in which the tallest players were Baker (6-4) and Miller (6-3). In the end, no one could hit a 3. The Hornets fired three 3s in a row on their last possession in OT, and were never close to drawing net.

"We are going to the Final Four and that feels great," Keaton said. "It feels awesome!''