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WESTOVER RELAYS: WHS misses sweep as boys win, girls take second

Westover’s Ayanna Mitchell throws in the shot put event during Friday’s 10th annual Westover Relays at Hugh Mills Stadium. Mitchell scored 18 points by herself, winning the discus and coming in second in the shot put to lead the Lady Patriots to a second-place finish.

Westover’s Ayanna Mitchell throws in the shot put event during Friday’s 10th annual Westover Relays at Hugh Mills Stadium. Mitchell scored 18 points by herself, winning the discus and coming in second in the shot put to lead the Lady Patriots to a second-place finish.

ALBANY — Call it bittersweep.

That's the best way to describe how Westover's track & field teams felt after flirting with a chance to sweep the 10th annual Westover Relays for the first time in the history of the meet.

They wanted the sweep.

They fought for the sweep.

It was oh so close to a sweep.

The boys team had a dramatic comeback to overtake Bainbridge to win, 104-95, and nail down their third title in a row and seventh in the 10-year history of the meet, and the girls had a solid day finishing second to Class AAAAAA Valdosta, 109-96 1/2.

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Dougherty’s Quannesha Gatling stole the show at the Westover Relays on Friday, scoring 28 points by herself in the triple jump, long jump and the 400-meter run. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

The Patriots had a mad dash, scoring 48 points in the final five events to beat Bainbridge, which had a chance to win going into the final event. Westover inched ahead and led by four points as the two teams lined up for the 4x400 relay. Then the Patriots put it away by not only beating Bainbridge, which finished fourth, but winning the mile relay with an inspirational finish by Craig Reddix, who overtook Northside Columbus in the final 100 meters to win the race and put an exclamation point on the night.

"I just had to do it,'' said Reddix, who had been out with a hamstring injury and hadn't run in more than two weeks. "I had to do it for the team. I knew we had to get it. We really wanted to win this meet. It's my senior year and this is our meet. We had to win it.''

The Westover kids celebrated with Reddix at the end of the race.

"We just work hard and come out here and do it for the team,'' said Jackie Childs, a senior who helped turn the meet around when he won the 110-hurdles.

It was an emotional comeback.

"This is one of the most exciting track meets I've ever seen,'' said Westover AD Harley Calhoun, who oversees the track program with track coach Lewis Smith. "We came close to the sweep, so close. The girls had a good day and the boys showed me a lot of resilience the way they came back. Bainbridge had a 20-point lead at one point, and it came down to the end.''

Westover trailed almost all day and then stormed into the lead with flurry of points in the 800-meter run and 110-hurdles, and Childs won the 110-hurdles the Patriots took a one-point lead.

The Patriots picked up 14 points in the 800-meter run when Tyler Sheffel finished second and Marquis Jones was third, and then leap-frogged Bainbridge when Childs, who missed the 300-meter hurdles earlier in the day because he had a doctor's appointment, came back to win the 110-hurdles to give Westover 10 more points and the lead in the meet with three events left.

Then Reddix finished fifth in the 200 meters and Scott Sanders picked up a point by finishing sixth in the race and the Patriots led Bainbridge, 86-84 with three events left.

Westover finished second in the distance medley relay and Bainbridge was third, which gave the Patriots a four-point lead as the teams headed into the final event of the night

"It was a good day for Westover,'' Harley Calhoun said."We are accostomed to coming out of the field with a lot of points and the lead, and this was one meet where we didn't have the points in the field and had to fight back to get back in the track meet. The turning point was in the 800 and the 110-hurdles. And it came down to the mile relay and we had our best out there for that race.''

Westover always scores points in the field, and the Patriots went 1-2 in the shot put as Chris O'Neal won the event (51-0) and Don Mills finished second (48-3). Quintavious Moran, who just started vaulting a few weeks ago, finished fourth in the pole vault and Sheffel finished fifth for the Patriots. Albany High's Shivam Patel was second in the pole vault (11-0).

Bainbridge's boys had a solid meet from top to bottom as several Bearcats had big nights.

Chase Harris won the 3,200-meter run and he was fourth in the 800, Craig Cooper was second in the high jump and Jamez Harris finished fifth in the shot put to score points early in the day, and Derek Allen took sixth in the first race of the day -- the 300-hurdles -- for Bainbridge.

Bainbridge's 4x100 relay team of Terry Lewis, Justin Baker, Greg Cooper and Marshal Mack won the race in 42.54 and took over first place at that point in the meet. Lewis finished second in the 100-meter dash and third in the 200-meter dash.

Westover's girls led for most of the day but Valdosta pulled away to win for the first time in the 10 years of the meet, the only high school track & field meet in Georgia that is held under the lights.

"We didn't do some of the things we usually do. We had some mishaps, but overall it was a good meet for the girls,'' Calhoun said. "We came in after spring break a little iffy, but we're coming out oof this meet with a lot of momentum going into the region meet (Tuesday and Thursday). We feel real good giong into the region.''

Westover's girls started scoring early. Ayanna Mitchell won the discus (120-5) and finished second in the shot put (36-2) to toss up 18 points by herself, and the kid they call Doughnut had a perfect day in the distance runs as Ericka Taylor, a senior who has been the top distance runner in this part of the state for four years, won the 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter runs with ease, literally running away from the field.

Taylor and Mitchell accounted for 38 points early in the meet to give Westover momentum and it carried over the rest meet. Kayla Kirkland was fourth in the pole vault and Briana Harpe finished third in the 800 and sixth in the triple jump. Westover's Bryshea Jackson was third in the triple jump as Westover grabbed points from all over the field. Westover's girls also set a meet record (14:17.67) in the distance medley relay.

Monroe's Lady Tornadoes, who had won the meet for the past four years, finished fourth. Chakeriah Fletcher and Nardesia McKinney went 1-2 in the 300-meter hurdles for Monroe and Fletcher was fourth in the 400-meter run and McKinney finished third in the 100-meter hurdles. Albany High's Lindenesha Hudson was second in the 100-hurdles. Monroe's 4x100 relay team finished second to Valdosta and finished third in the distance medley relay and third in the 4x400 relay.

It's hard to imagine anyone having a better day than Dougherty's Quannesha Gatling, who made a statement by showing up to the meet and then slammed an exclamation point on it with a remarkable evening.

Dougherty's girls team was missing several athletes because it was prom night, but Gatling, a senior, skipped the prom to compete in the Westover Relays.

"I thought about going to prom earlier this year, but when I found out we had a track meet I decided to come here instead of going to the prom,'' Gatling said. "I knew a lot of the girls would be at prom and wouldn't be here so I wanted to support my team. I just wanted to support my school, support Dougherty, support the East Side.''

She did.

Gatling had a night to remember, scoring 28 points by herself.

She won the triple jump (36-5 feet), finished second in the long jump (16-11) and then -- after being seeded fourth in the 400, she took on the field and beat everyone to win the 400 in 57.71.

She won the race and then gave her coach Donald Poole a hug afterward. It was her night, her statement and her moment, and Poole couldn't stop smiling.

"She's a real good athlete,'' Poole said. "She's competitive.''

The fact she ran — and ran so well — on prom night goes beyond being competitive.

"It shows commitment,'' Poole said. "It shows dedication.''

Gatling is one of -- if not the best -- all around athletes in Southwest Georgia. She was a star on Dougherty's softball and basketball teams and one of the top track athletes in this part of the state. She outscored eight teams by herself on Friday night.

The Region 1-AAAA meet starts Tuesday at Hugh Mills with the finals on Thursday, and Gatling, who finished fifth in the state meet in the 400 last year, is hoping to make a stretch run to a state title.

"That's my goal,'' she said. "My goal is to win state, and to make history as the first girl to win a state track title at Dougherty.''

While Gatling was sizing up her goals on Friday night, Lee County's Holly Ebbets tried to vault over hers. Ebbets, who won her fourth pole vault title at the Westover Relays, tied the meet record with a vault of 11-feet and six inches. She just missed breaking the record at 12 feet. Her final vault of the day was short and she took a painful spill. She got up with one thought.

"I'm going to get 12 feet,'' she said emphatically as she stood with ice wrapped around her back to ease the pain. "I've got to do it. I'm going to do it.''