Westover beat a tough Westside, Macon team last week and is looking to carry that momentum into today’s game against state-ranked No. 1 Washington County, which is riding a 50-game winning streak
ALBANY — Ieshia Young raised her voice and smiled when she said it, and she said it over and over.
“We’re going to shock the world,’’ she said as she stood in the Westover gym after practice on Monday afternoon.
Then her teammate DyTiesha Dunson jumped in.
“We’re not going to shock anybody. We’re going to go there and play our game, and we’re going there with confidence,’’ she said.
That’s the message that came out of Westover on Monday — a message the Lady Patriots hope runs true tonight when they face their biggest test of the season in a collision with Washington County in a game many believe will determine the eventual Class AAA girls state champion.
A little confidence can’t hurt, and shocking the world would be just fine with Westover coach Lewis Smith, who knows if his team pulls off the win tonight in the Class AAA Sweet 16 game at Sandersville all of Georgia will hear about it.
“Yeah,’’ Smith said with a smile. “The whole state of Georgia. It will be shocking.’’
That’s how big this game is. No one has beaten Washington County in two years. The Lady Hawks not only won the state title last year with a 32-0 record, but they’ve been ranked No. 1 all season, and have run off another 28-game winning streak this year. They carry a 50-game winning streak into tonight’s game in a gym that will be packed with Lady Hawks fans.
“It will definitely be standing-room only,’’ said Washington County coach Sug Parker, who added that everyone in Washington County is buzzing over playing Westover, which spent most of the season ranked No. 2 in the state, right behind his team. “We’ve had calls from every where about this game, and a lot of former players are coming back for this game. A lot of people are anxious to see us play Westover.’’
The Lady Patriots, who went 23-0 before losing in the final week of the regular season to city rival Monroe, would have rather met Washington County in two weeks in Macon for the state title.
That was the plan when the brackets came out months ago. One problem: When Crisp County, which had lost twice to Westover, upset the Lady Patriots to win the Region 1-AAA title, it tossed Westover into the same side of the state bracket with Washington County, and the biggest shock in the state tournament is that the two powers are meeting in Round 2.
To give you an idea of what a tough draw Westover landed, consider this: Dougherty plays Hephzibah tonight in a second round game on the road. Washington County beat Hephzibah by 33 points just two weeks ago.
“They’re 50-0 and they haven’t had a close game all year,’’ Smith said. “And they’re playing on their home court. We would much rather play them on a neutral court, but we didn’t win the region championship. It is what it is. We knew that when we didn’t win the region championship.’’
Smith knows what to expect.
“They love basketball in Washington County and that gym will be full and the crowd will be noisy. There is going to be a lot of energy in that gym, and none of it is going to be positive for us,’’ he said.
Still, he believes his kids can win.
“It looks like we are in a hole. It looks like an impossible task, and playing on their home court makes it tough. It could be intimidating, but we’re going there to win the game,’’ he said. “Everyone has to step up in this game. Everyone has to play their role’’
Westover, which has only two seniors — Dunson and Young — may not have shocked the world, but the Lady Patriots, who start two sophomores and a freshman on most nights — have surprised a few people in Albany.
“The thing about this group of girls is that at the beginning of the year people didn’t think we would do as well as we have done, because we lost (three starters, including two who transferred),’’ Smith said. “They thought we would be too thin and inexperienced. But they have tried to answer the call, and this will be another chance to show people they can answer the call.’’
“Winning streaks are good, but at some point in time they have to come to an end,’’ he said. “It might as well be us that ends it.’’
Parker knows that better than anyone.
“We knew coming into the season we would have a target on our back,’’ said Parker, who won his 100th games this season in his fourth year at Washington County. “We know everyone wants to be the team that beats Washington County. But that’s why we work so hard.’’
The Lady Hawks are disciplined and tough at every position, and they have the luxury of having Allisha Gray running the show. Gray is considered one of the top juniors in the nation, and Smith believes she’s probably the best girls player in Georgia, regardless of class.
Gray has it all. She’s a 6-foot guard who can bury 3s or drive inside and dominate in the paint, and she can change gears at any time. She is shooting 85 percent from the field and averaging 31.8 points and almost 10 rebounds a game.
“She’s just so smooth, and she can hit the 3 or drive on you, and no matter what defense you put on her — if you put a smaller girl to guard her outside or a bigger girl to try to post up with her, she can adjust,’’ Smith said. “You are not going to stop her. To me, she’s the best player in the state. She’s so smooth and so relaxed. She’s very impressive. Look at the kind of points she puts up every night (32). You just don’t see that.
“We are going to have to score to win this game,’’ he added. “We’ve got to score to stay with them, and play great defense.’’
Smith has his own multitask star in Dunson, who leads Westover in every offensive category. Dunson played on the same AAU team alongside Gray (the Georgia Metros) and remembers when Westover played Washington County in Macon when the two schools met in the summer league last year.
“I know her,’’ Dunson said. “She’s a real good player. But we played them in the summer league and we beat them. I know it’s just the summer league, but we did beat them. We’re going to be confident that we can beat them (tonight).’’
The Westover girls are hearing about Washington County from just about everybody.
“We’re not intimidated,’’ Dunson said. “People are more scared than we are. People hear we are playing Washington County and they’re like, ‘OK, good luck with that.’ But we don’t feel that way.’’
Parker and Washington County know about Dunson.
“Oh, DyTiesha,’’ Parker said when asked about Dunson. “Yes, we have seen her play over the years. We have a lot of research on her. We’ve done our homework. She’s a player. We are going to have to play as a unit to stop her.’’
Smith said he expects an all-out press from Washington County, which can feed off the crowd and dictate the game. Dunson said that’s the key to the game.
“We’ve got to beat their press and get numbers on them and make the easy baskets,’’ Dunson said. “And we’ve got to have the complete game from everybody. When we lost to Monroe, I had a good game but the team didn’t. When we lost to Crisp, the team had a good game but I didn’t. This is the game where everyone needs to have a good game. We can do it. I believe we can do it. We haven’t had a game this year where everyone was on. I think this is the game everybody will play their best.”
Young, who along with Dunson, was a preseason Herald Super 6er, believes the odds are with Westover.
“All the pressure is on them,’’ Young said. “They’re playing in their own gym and they have the winning streak. All the pressure is on them, and none of it is on us. I can’t wait for this game. This is one of those games you are always going to remember.’’