The Monroe girls swarm each other with hugs Tuesday after upsetting previously unbeaten Westover, 51-48. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — It’s over.
The streak, the perfection, the dream of running the table and more — all gone.
It ended with a wild shot from beyond the arc, and a final scramble for the ball that skipped out of bounds and took a perfect season with it as the clock ran out on Westover’s magnificent girls basketball team, which saw its season-long 23-game winning streak finally disappear.
It ended at the hands of Westover’s biggest rival, a gutsy, tough and gritty Monroe team that not only left it all on the floor, but spent a good part of the game there, diving and scratching for loose balls and rebounds.
In the end, it was 51-48, but it was more than a three-point loss for Westover, a team of dreamers who dreamed of being the first team in the school’s history to put together a perfect season.
The Lady Patriots, ranked No. 1 in The Herald from Day 1, and currently ranked No. 2 in the Class AAA state poll, have one regular-season game left Friday in Americus-Sumter.
They have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Region 1-AAA tournament and won the right to play host. They won everything all year. Everything but Tuesday’s game against Monroe.
They fell at Darton.
Monroe’s fans celebrated more than their girls did on the court, and Westover walked off in shock, stunned that a last-ditch comeback fell short.
Everyone but coach Lewis Smith.
“I’m glad it’s over,’’ he said of the winning streak. “It was beginning to be a burden. Everybody was making such a big deal about it. It was taking the fun out of it for me.’’
Monroe took all the fun out of the game for Westover with an unrelenting defense and a group that hit the glass hard all night.
But the Lady Tornadoes didn’t go crazy with the win.
“We’re still happy, real happy even if we didn’t show any emotion at the end of the game,’’ said Monroe senior Chelsea Cox, who led the Lady Tornadoes with 14 points and four rebounds. “We really wanted to beat them. We’re trying to get the No. 2 seed in the region. We needed the win.
“We want to take this win and keep going. That’s the plan, to keep going and make a run. Make a run and be the next state champs.’’
It was Cox who ignited Monroe.
She scored nine of Monroe’s 12 first-quarter points, hitting the court out of a cannon to give The Herald No. 4 Lady Tornadoes the lead and confidence early. By halftime, Monroe was hanging onto a 24-23 lead. It was only the second time in 24 games that Westover trailed at the half. The Lady Pats were down 19-18 at Crisp County at halftime before beating the Lady Cougars, 40-36.
But Monroe simply would not give up or give in and beat Westover with a smothering defense that harassed and rattled Westover all night. The teams fought through five lead changes and the game seemed to be tied at 29-29 forever in the third quarter before Monroe went on a 7-0 run to end the third quarter that was sparked by Kizzie Coleman, who hit an inside shot and then — after Cox hit a drive — Coleman busted a 3-pointer with 13 seconds left in the third to lift Monroe to a 36-29 lead.
The Lady Tornadoes never looked back.
“The outhustled us. They grabbed loose balls and they beat us on the boards,’’ said Smith, whose team was outrebounded 2-to-1 by Monroe, which took over in the fourth.
Davone Anduze hit a drive to open the fourth and then dropped in two free throws to make it a 40-31 game before Destinee Collins went back-to-back with a pair of back-breaking baskets to lift Monroe to a 44-31 lead with 4:50 left. It was the biggest lead of the night, and proved to be just enough in the end.
“It was our game. It was our time,’’ Monroe coach Cheryl Cheeks said afterward. Then she summed up her gameplan, the game and why Monroe won in one word.
“Defense,” she said. Then she said it again, and again. “Defense, that was our gameplan. We played defense. We went back to what we do best.’’
Monroe suffocated Herald Super 6er DyTiesha Dunson, arguably the best player in Southwest Georgia, but she still managed to score 20 points and almost pulled out a miracle finish.
“They were on me pretty tight all night,’’ Dunson said. “It hurts, hurts to lose. But we didn’t play that well and Monroe played a great game.
“This will only make us hungrier, and make us more humble. We have no where to go but up from here.’’
Smith promised a different team after Tuesday.
“We don’t like that bitter taste. I don’t like it. They don’t like it. We’ll be a different team. You will see a different team next week when the region tournament starts,” he said.
The Lady Patriots almost pulled it out in the end.
Westover trailed, 49-41, with 1:12 left, but Mykesa Smith hit a pair of free throws with 1:10 left and the Lady Patriots made back-to-back steals. Dunson then hit an outside shot with two players draped all over her to cut the lead to 49-45, and after Cessiley Colwell, a former Westover player, hit a drive for Monroe with 30 seconds left to up the lead to 51-45, Dunson hit a 3 on the fly with an unbelievable shot that cut the lead to 51-48 with 21 seconds left. Monroe then missed a pair of free throws to give Westover a chance to tie things, but Smith’s 3 hit the front of the rim, and when she grabbed the rebound she was bumped by her own player, and unleashed a wild desperation 3 at the end.
The ball and the perfect season skipped out of bounds.