The Crisp County girls basketball team, which was swept by Westover in the regular season, celebrates wildly as coach Molly Speir, back, looks on Friday night at the Boston Garden after rallying to beat the Lady Patriots, 46-41, for the Lady Cougars’ first Region 1-AAA title in nine years — while also denying Westover the crown for the second straight season after it lost to Dougherty last year. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — Stunned.
For the second straight year, Crisp County shocked Westover in the postseason — and this time it was for a Region 1-AAA championship Friday night in the Boston Garden.
Herald Super 6er and Westover star senior DyTiesha Dunson said the 46-41 loss felt like something “piercing” her heart.
Westover coach Lewis Smith, whose Herald No. 1 Lady Patriots lost to Crisp in the quarterfinals of last year’s state tournament, was also perplexed.
“Yes, I really felt like we were …” Smith said, trailing off when asked if the loss shocked him. “We played Crisp twice in the regular season, and the last time we played them we (beat) them convincingly.”
There was nothing shocking about the outcome for the Lady Cougars, who won their first region title since 2003 and will enter state on a six-game winning streak.
“We showed Westover that they thought they could beat every single team in our region, but we showed up and won a region championship,” said Keidra Green, who scored 10 points for the Lady Cougars. “We never doubted what we could do.”
The Lady Patriots entered the championship game with a 25-1 record and as the favorites to win the region after losing last year’s title game to Dougherty.
Crisp (17-10) entered with nothing to lose, so when the final seconds ticked off the clock, Crisp senior Adrianna Dennard could hardly contain her excitement.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening,” said Dennard, who started running in circles in celebration seconds after the game ended. “With about five seconds on the clock, my heart started beating fast. I couldn’t think of anything, but ‘We won region!’ and ‘We beat Westover in their gym!’ ”
And they shut down Dunson — something no team in Southwest Georgia had been successful at yet this season. Dunson, who missed her first nine shots and was held scoreless in the first half, finished with a season-low three points and was 1-for-18 from the field.
They say defense wins championships. That was never truer Friday night.
“We played a matchup zone, so wherever (Dunson) went, they had to pick her up,” Crisp coach Molly Speir said.
Even with Dunson off her game, the No. 1-seeded Lady Patriots led for the first three quarters and were up by as many as six with 25 seconds left in the third quarter.
“When we got up (six) in the third period I was feeling kind of good about it,” Smith said. “But Dunson has carried us in scoring, so when she doesn’t score we look flat. We live and die with Dunson, and she didn’t quite get it going (Friday night).”
Crisp, the No. 3 seed, finally took a 38-37 lead with 2:34 left when Kayla Green, who led the Lady Cougars with 20 points, knocked down one of her seven fourth-quarter free throws.
Westover never regained the lead. Dunson missed a free throw that would have given Westover a 39-38 lead, a jumper that would have tied the game at 40-40 and another jumper that would have pulled the Lady Patriots to within 42-40.
“It hurts,” Dunson said. “It’s like Déjà vu all over again from last year. (The loss) feels like something piercing through your heart. You work so hard for something this season. We had a great record of 25-1 coming into the region championship, but we will rebound from this.”
Herald Super 6er Ieshia Young led Westover with 15 points, while Au’Bre’Ana Moore added 10.
The Green sisters combined for 30 points, while Lady Cougars post players Nasheema Oliver and Dennard had eight and six points, respectively.
Dennard was one of the first to start celebrating on the court, and she was the first to dump Gatorade on her coach in the locker room after the game.
“I poured it everywhere,” she said. “On her neck, her back, her forehead, everywhere.”
Speir didn’t seem to mind.
“We knew that we could beat them,” Speir said. “We kept telling them that we had a great team but we just needed to stay in it mentally. And that’s what we did. They stayed in the game and fought through adversity.”