Westwood's Rachel Harrell came up big Thursday for the Lady Wildcats, leading the way with 28 points and clutch free throws late in the GISA Class AA Final Four upset win against Gatewood.
MACON — Rachel Harrell had to stop and think about it, and then the word came to her like a bolt of lighting.
“Shocked,’’ she said. “They looked shocked at the end of the game.’’
That’s the way Harrell described the look in the eyes of the Gatewood Lady Gators in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s GISA Class AA state semifinal game against Westwood.
Shocked? It fits.
Maybe everyone in GISA was a little shocked to see Westwood, the smallest school in AA, not only upset the defending state champs but bury the Lady Gators, 62-43, to reach the state title game for the third year in a row.
This time it’s in Class AA. The Lady Wildcats, who lost in the Class A title game to Crisp Academy the last two years, moved up in class, but they brought their heart and toughness and gritty no-quit style of play with them.
They will meet defending Class AAA state champ Arlington Christian (23-4), which moved down a class this offseason, at 3:20 p.m. on Saturday back at Mercer University’s Hawkins Area, where the kids from Camilla put on a show Thursday. Arlington Christian, which dropped down in class this season, beat Terrell Academy, 59-42, in the other semifinal Thursday.
No one outside Camilla gave Westwood a chance to get past the semifinals. After all, Gatewood was not only the defending champ, but the Lady Gators had won 27 of 28 games, losing only to AAA power Tattnall Square this season.
That’s not all.
Gatewood’s Khady Dieng, a 6-foot force from Senegal, is arguably the best player in all of GISA.
“Everybody said they were going to beat us,’’ Harrell said. “We knew we were the underdogs. We wanted to show everybody we could beat them.’’
They did — and then some.
Harrell, a junior, had a monster game, leading Westwood with 28 points, and she was a big reason Westwood burned down the nets at the free throw line.
Not only did Westwood make 25 of 27 free throws, but the Camilla kids nailed 15 of 16 free throws in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
Harrell made 7 of 8, Callie Smith made 6 of 6 and Morgan Singleton made both her free throws as Westwood gave an entire new meaning to the term “crunch time’’ in the final minutes to blow Gatewood off the court.
While the Lady Wildcats were putting on an ice show from the line, Singleton had been tasked with stopping Dieng, who opened the fourth quarter on a mission, hitting her first three shots, including a 3-pointer to get Gatewood to within six points (44-38).
But Singleton, a sophomore, slammed the door after that and Dieng didn’t score again until she had a putback with less than a minute in the game. By then it was over, and there was nothing left but the look of shock by Gatewood’s kids — and a wild celebration from Westwood.
“This was the loudest, wildest celebration we have had in three years,’’ said Singleton, who played in the Lady Wildcats’ first state title game run three years ago as an eighth-grader. “It was pretty loud three years ago when we made school history and went to the state final the first time, but this was louder. We have a chance to make history and become the first to win a state title.’’
Dieng finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds, but Singleton’s defense in the stretch — Gatewood went more than four minutes without scoring a point in the fourth quarter — just put an exclamation point on the victory.
“After the game I gave Morgan a big ‘ol sweaty hug,’’ Westwood coach Jenni Smith said with a smile. “She did the job. At first we had Rachel on Khady, but she is smaller and Khady started posting her up and going to the basket, and we switched to Morgan. Khady (opened the fourth quarter with a run), and I told Morgan to face-guard her and just try to keep the ball away from her and make someone else beat us.’’
She did, and Gatewood didn’t beat Westwood. Marlee Malcolm hit a 3 for Gatewood with five minutes left and the Lady Gators didn’t score again until Dieng’s putback with 55 seconds remaining. Westwood had built the lead to 60-41 by then.
Singleton finished with 14 points and Callie Smith added 10, while Harrell’s younger sister, Perra, a freshman who was The Herald’s Player of the Year in cross country, dropped in six points. Ivey Foister finished with four points but had a brilliant game inside battling the much taller Gatewood team.
Westwood opened the game by going right at the Lady Gators and never let up. Dieng scored Gatewood’s first four points, but when Singleton hit a 3 to give Westwood a 7-4 lead, the Lady Wildcats never looked back. They also never trailed again, leading, 13-8, after the first quarter, then 34-23 at halftime and 42-31 after three.
“When we had them down at halftime, I knew it would be hard for them to come back against us,” Rachel Harrell said. “We knew what we had to do and how to do it. We knew we had to contain Khady and not let anyone else blow up on us.’’
And Westwood (22-3) simply out hustled Gatewood all day.
“When we were running down the court, we knew they weren’t as fast as us,” Rachel Harrell said. “We knew we could beat them. No one else thought we could, but we were confident, and as the game went along we became even more confident.
“At the end of the game, they looked shocked. They knew they were going to win, but we had to show them (they weren’t).’’
Terrell girls lose halftime lead, fall in GISA Class AA Final 4
MACON — Keith Jones, whose remarkable program at Terrell Academy was making it’s ninth consecutive trip to the GISA Final Four, watched his team’s season end Thursday night in a 59-42 loss to Arlington Christian in the Class AA state semifinals.
Eighth-grader Rakeah Williams, a 6-foot junior high kid who lifted Arlington into Saturday’s state title game against Westwood.
Williams scored 19 of her game-high 27 points in the second half, including 10 in the third quarter when Arlington took over the game.
“She took over in the second half,” Jones said. “She’s wide body and she’s physical and she gets to where she wants to go. We just got out-physical-ed.’’
Jones said Arlington Christian was the biggest team his kids had ever faced in the Final Four, and he was worried about the mismatch, because Arlington not only had Williams, but 6-4 Ana Anderson, who has committed to Mercer. Anderson scored only two points, but the two towers controlled the boards on Terrell’s smaller kids from Dawson.
“We just didn’t match up with them at all physically,’’ Jones said. “And in the second half they just pounded us on the boards. I don’t have a 6-4 girl and a 6-foot eighth-grader, and I don’t have guards who are 5-9 and 5-8.’’
Still, the kids from Dawson gave Arlington all it wanted early. Arlington (23-4) has won four consecutive state championships in AA and AAA combined and previously carried a 100-game, regular-season win streak. After winning the last two titles at the highest GISA level, Arlington Christian returned to AA this season in search of its fifth consecutive title and will have to beat two Southwest Georgia teams to get it.
Jones said he believes Westwood will win the game.
“I still think Westwood will win it. I think they will shoot better than we did,’’ said Jones, whose program lost three times in the regular season to the Lady Wildcats — lopsided each time.
For a while it looked like TAE (21-9) might meet Westwood for the title.
The Lady Eagles jumped out to a 9-1 lead before Arlingtom stormed back to knot things at 9-9 at the end of the first quarter, but TAE led 21-20 at halftime and was leading 27-24 midway in the third quarter when the game got away.
Jones blamed poor shooting and the inability to rebound.
“We couldn’t shoot a lick and couldn’t rebound,’’ he said. “We shot about 30 percent for the game (16 for 56). The other night (in the Elite 8 round win) we shot 60 percent. This game was a polar opposite of that one. You’re not going to win many games like that.’’
The Lady Eagles still led 27-24 with l4:37 left in the third quarter when Williams sparked an 18-6 run to close out the quarter. She scored 10 of the 18 points and Arlington took a 42-33 lead into the fourth. Williams poured in nine more points and Larisa Bishop had a big fourth quarter to finish with 18 points for Arlington.
Terrell was led by Maura Milliron (14 points) Lauren Barfield (10 points) and sophomore Marilauren Farr, who scored 10 points. Milliron and Barfield are seniors who played for the state champs as eighth-graders and have been a big part of Terrell’s amazing run. The Lady Eagles won three state titles in a row, including two in A before moving to AA in 2011. They beat the odds and critics by winning the AA title that year, before losing in the AA final to Gatewood last year.
“We have seen a lot of success with those girls,” Jones said. “Those seniors are leaving a great legacy behind.’’