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GISA CLASS A STATE FINAL: Crisp Academy beats Westwood for state championship again

The Crisp Academy girls basketball team holds the trophy, the cut-down nets and sports huge smiles Saturday in Milledgeville after winning the GISA Class A State Championship for the second year in a row, beating Westwood once again. (Paul Fay/Special to The Herald)

The Crisp Academy girls basketball team holds the trophy, the cut-down nets and sports huge smiles Saturday in Milledgeville after winning the GISA Class A State Championship for the second year in a row, beating Westwood once again. (Paul Fay/Special to The Herald)

MILLEDGEVILLE — The sore back and angry red scratches on Madi Mitchell’s arms told only part of the tale Saturday.

Her wide grin told so much more.

The 6-foot-1 sophomore sensation bruised her way to 35 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks as Crisp Academy defeated Westwood, 59-51, to earn its second consecutive GISA girls Class A State Championship at the Centennial Center at Georgia College & State University.

It is the fourth time Crisp (29-3) beat Westwood (24-6) this season. The Lady Wildcats of Cordele have now won eight straight against their Region 3-A rivals, the Lady Wildcats from Camilla.

“It was really physical out there, but I expected it,” said Mitchell, who was whistled for just one personal foul. “I just kept thinking, ‘Be strong.’ ”

Mitchell waged a spirited battle with Westwood’s Ivy Foister in the paint, and amidst hip checks and lane-clearing elbows, repeatedly found herself at the free-throw line, where she coolly made 17 of 20 attempts.

In a game that mirrored the previous tilts between these two teams, five lead changes punctuated the first quarter. Crisp, which also outdueled Westwood in last year’s state title game, then raced to a second-quarter advantage and time and again withstood one Westwood charge after another in the second half.

Crisp owned a solid eight-point lead at the half. Mitchell, however, knew there would be no coasting.

“We went up (in the first half), but they came back — and kept coming back,” Mitchell said. “We knew they wouldn’t go away. We just had to keep our cool.”

Westwood’s Miller Singleton, who was held to merely four points in the opening half, was pulled aside by head coach Jenni Smith just before leaving the locker room at the break.

“The last thing I told her was that I needed some offense from her,” Smith said.

Singeton attempted to put her squad on her back, scoring 20 of her team-high 24 points in the final 16 minutes. She spurred a 13-6 run in the third quarter, and when sister Morgan Singleton stole an inbounds pass and laid it in while being fouled, Westwood went to the line needing to sink the free throw to tie the game with 1:32 remaining in the quarter.

The shot didn’t fall, however, and Westwood never got any closer.

“We thought this was the time … our time,” a dejected Miller Singleton said. “We always talk about living in the moment, and at that moment we had confidence and momentum.”

Minutes later, Crisp again stretched its lead before Westwood mustered another charge. Twice, the underdogs cut the deficit to three points in the fourth quarter. Yet, like seemingly every game against Crisp this season, Westwood couldn’t find that elusive basket to break through.

“I just think when we would get to that point, we would push and give everything we had but couldn’t find that one score to put us over the top at critical times,” Smith said. “We didn’t do a great job offensively when we were on the cusp of pulling ahead.”

Westwood employed a strategy in the final three minutes of the game to foul immediately on every Crisp possession. Smith said the objective was to try and trade a free throw for a basket to whittle away at the lead. The only problem was Foister and Morgan Singleton (10 points) fouled out of the game in the process, while Crisp shot a staggering 33-for-39 at the charity stripe.

“I tell my girls every day that you win or lose at the free-throw line in close games,” Crisp head coach Gina Mitchell said.

In comparison, Westwood shot just 13-for-18 from the free-throw line.

“We gave (Crisp) our best shot,” said Smith, who guided her team to the school’s best single-season record. “I guess I’ll have to process this one for awhile before I can really figure out what happened, but our girls played as hard as I could ask them to play.”

As for Gina Mitchell and daughter Madi, both should rest well after an exhausting championship game.

“I couldn’t sleep (Friday) night,” Gina Mitchell said. “I just stayed up playing this game over and over in my head, and I kept seeing myself telling my team after it was over that they had done an awesome job.”