Westover players, from left, Danielle Bryant, Alicia Samuels and Shanteria Williams, celebrate after winning their first-round state tournament game Friday in Albany. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — Westover senior Ieshia Young was seeing her high school basketball career flash before her eyes.
The Herald Super 6er said her heart was racing as the minutes started to tick off the clock in Friday night’s Class AAA state tournament opener between Westover and Westside, Macon.
But then DyTiesha Dunson stepped to the free throw line and all of Young’s worries disappeared.
Dunson, also a Herald Super 6er, was 8-of-8 from the free throw line in the final 3:18 to lead the No. 2 seed Lady Patriots to a 48-42 win against the No. 3 seed Lady Seminoles.
Dunson, who finished with a team-high 12 points, was held in check for most of the game and shot just 2-for-11 from the field, but that didn’t seem to bother her when she stepped to the free throw line late in the game.
“I was calm. It was just like I was shooting them in practice,” Dunson said. “My team knows I’m a good foul shooter. When I step to the line, if I miss, they are shocked. It calms me that they have faith in me.”
Westside led, 39-37, when Dunson took her first foul shots, which were both nothing but net. She gave the Lady Patriots a 43-41 lead with 1:30 left with two more free throws and then iced the game with four free throws in the final 25 seconds.
“When DyTiesha is on the free throw line, it lets us exhale a little bit,” said Young, who scored 10 points. “It gives us a little breathing time.”
The Lady Patriots don’t have much time to breath with a second-round game against state-ranked No. 1 Washington County looming. Washington County is riding a 50-game winning streak and will host the Class AAA No. 3 Lady Patriots (25-2) on Tuesday night.
“We have been hearing about them the whole season, because they have been ranked No. 1 and we have been ranked No. 2,” Dunson said. “It’s supposed to be the state championship game. Honestly, it’s better to beat them now and keep it rolling then to wait till the end and lose. We have momentum going in. I know they will be a hard team to beat, but honestly if we play like a team, there isn’t anybody who can beat us.”
The Lady Patriots played team ball Friday night after falling behind by 10 points in the second quarter. Westside’s Braxtyn Talton, who led the Lady Seminoles with 19 points, hit a jumper with 7:03 in the second quarter to give her team an 18-8 advantage, but Westover coach Lewis Smith called a timeout and then watched his Lady Patriots go on an 8-0 run to get back into the game. Westover took a 24-22 lead into halftime and didn’t give up the lead until late in the fourth quarter.
Smith said it was nothing new for his team to fall behind early in a game.
“In the past, we haven’t gotten rattled,” Smith said. “We’ve been down 18. We’ve been down 16. We’ve been down a lot. But we calm down and run the system where everybody on the floor knows what’s going on and make (the other team) play defense more than a couple of seconds. We normally are able to crawl back into games if we take a couple of ticks off the clock before we throw up a shot.”
The lead went back and forth in the final three minutes, and Talton had a chance to give Westside the lead with 1:16 left when she had a trio of foul shots after getting hacked on a 3-pointer. However, the senior hit only 1-of-3 to bring the Lady Seminoles to within one point — the closest they would get the rest of the way.
“That’s unusual for her,” said longtime Westside coach Deb Baber, who retired after the game. “She usually hits those.”
Baber then added: “(Talton) has worked so hard her entire career. This year I told her that she finally learned to play hard from buzzer to buzzer. No possessions off.”