COLUMBUS -- Tears streamed down DyTiesha Dunson's face as she looked for words to describe just how much this hurt -- this heartbreaking 37-35 loss to Crisp County, which finally found a way to beat Westover after losing three times to the Lady Patriots this season.
The first three don't mean anything now; nothing at all because this one meant everything -- everything and more. It came at the best time for Crisp and the worst for Westover.
It came here on a gray and dull Saturday afternoon at Columbus State in the Elite 8 round of the GHSA Class AAA State Tournament, a step away from the Final Four, a heartbeat away from the dream.
"It hurts me. It hurts everyone,'' Dunson said. "But I feel the worst for (Latisha Williams). She's our only senior and this was her last game. I will have a chance to come back and redeem myself. She won't. She hurts the most.''
Williams choked on her words.
"I don't know,'' she said in a whisper. "I don't know. I thought we were going to win. I thought that until the very end, until the buzzer sounded. I thought we were going to do it.''
After all, Westover always beats Crisp.
"We just couldn't do it four times,'' said Westover coach Lewis Smith, who had warned of this all week, fearing the fourth-game factor and Crisp's 6-foot-3 center, Nasheema Oliver.
Westover held Oliver, who sat out most of the first half with two fouls, to just 10 points and nine rebounds, but the Lady Patriots couldn't make a shot when they needed it most.
Dunson had a chance to send the game into overtime when she went to the free throw line with 11.6 seconds left, trailing 37-35. But she missed the first one and deliberately missed the second to give Westover a final chance. The Lady Patriots got it when sophomore Shantaria Williams battled for the rebound, but Dunson, who leads Westover in every offensive category, missed a short jumper as the biggest shot of the game betrayed her, skipping in and out in the final seconds.
"It seemed like at the end of the game we were too scared,'' Dunson said. "It was like nobody wanted to take a shot because they didn't want to mess up. Nobody wanted to step up into the leader role. I tried, and I missed.''
Smith said he wanted it to be Dunson on the line at the end of the game.
"That's who I want there. There's nobody I would have rather had shooting the free throw (at the end),'' he said. "She's the best I've got. If I could choose somebody it would be DyTiesha.''
Dunson was still beating herself up over the missed free throw amid her tears.
"We shoot free throws every day,'' she said. "I could have put the game into overtime, and I didn't. I feel like I let all my teammates down.''
Westover didn't get a chance to get used to the free throw line. Here's the most remarkable statistic of this game (or any game): Crisp shot 26 free throws, and Westover shot six.
The Lady Patriots did not shoot a single free throw throughout the first three quarters of the game and didn't go to the line until midway in the fourth quarter, despite the fact there was a lot of contact being made at both ends of the court.
"We kept driving in there, but the refs didn't call any fouls,'' Dunson said. "I'm not blaming the refs. We have nobody to blame but ourselves. We just didn't make shots. It was like the (low-scoring region title game) against Dougherty. The shots we usually make just wouldn't fall, and at the end of the game when we really needed it, it just wasn't there.''
Crisp County, meanwhile, was elated to be moving on in a state tournament when not many gave the Lady Cougars a chance.
"Our girls are so excited as well they should be. They've earned it,"
Crisp coach Molly Speir said. "I knew even before the start that the pressure was on Westover since they had already beaten us three times. And with us having played solid basketball in our last three games our confidence level was up. Mentally, and physically, we were ready for them. It was just a matter of us getting out there and playing like we had been.
"I didn't think it was the best game we've played in state, but a win's a win."
Dunson, a Super 6er, led the way with 12 points, four steals and four assists, and Super 6er Ieshia Young had eight points, while Shantaria Williams finished with seven points and seven rebounds.
Westover led most of the game, but was up only 14-11 at halftime.
"When (Oliver) was out in the first half we really didn't take advantage of it,'' Smith said. "And then when she came back she really helped them beat our press. The difference was that we didn't make our shots and they beat us on the glass.''
Crisp out-rebounded Westover, 41-26, thanks in great part to Lady Cougars freshman Kayla Green, who came off the bench and took over the game for Crisp. Green finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds and also set the tone for Crisp's offense, which did just enough to edge Westover (25-5).
"(Green) was the player of the night for them,'' Smith said. "She ran their offense and got rebounds.''
Westover had beaten Crisp three times, winning 48-35 in the opening game in Albany and beating the Lady Cougars, 56-48, at Crisp. The two teams met two weeks ago in the Region 1-AAA semifinals and Westover took a close game and blew it open in the fourth quarter to win, 63-37.
Then Crisp took off, going from the No. 5 seed in the region to making it to the final four teams in the state. With the win, the Lady Cougars' record (15-14) reached above .500 for the first time all season, and they're officially as hot as any team in Georgia down the stretch.
They caught Westover in the third quarter and took a 24-22 lead into the fourth when Oliver hit a put-back just before the buzzer. Oliver opened the fourth with a spinning move to the basket for a 26-22 lead and Westover never led again.
"We just couldn't get into the flow, and we didn't make shots we normally make. That and the glass is what beat us, '' Smith said. "We always had the lead on them (in the first three wins), but at the end (on Saturday) we put ourselves in a situation where we had make a basket. And our shots just didn't fall. They just didn't fall.''