Westwood’s Perra Harrell drives for a basket Friday afternoon in the GISA Class AA state semifinals at Mercer University’s Hawkins Arena against Arlington Christian. The Lady Wildcats won, 60-57, to advance to today’s state championship game. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)
MACON — Westwood’s Callie Smith doesn’t consider herself an offensive rebounding threat.
So when the ball bounced back to her after she took an awkward shot midway through the fourth quarter Friday night in the GISA Class AA state semifinals against Arlington Christian, she was surprised.
Smith sank her next shot off the glass to give Westwood a small cushion, and the Lady Wildcats held on to advance to the state championship game for the fourth consecutive season with a 60-57 victory at Mercer University’s Hawkins Arena.
The defending Class AA champs will meet Briarwood, which eliminated Trinity Christian earlier on Friday, at 3:20 p.m. today.
“We knew they were a tough team and going to be tough to beat,” said Smith, who finished with 11 points. “We did not want to go into overtime against that team.”
The Lady Wildcats are thankful to get past a surging Arlington Christian team that Westwood coach Jenni Smith said was much better than everyone thought. She said she knew it was going to be a battle. Last year, the Lady Wildcats needed overtime to oust Arlington for the state championship.
“A lot of people watching the tournament had undersold Arlington up to this point,” Jenni Smith said. “Their athleticism and the way they shoot the ball, they had not played up to their potential until (Friday).”
Arlington gave Westwood its best shot, and the Lady Wildcats are grateful to still be standing. No matter how big of a lead Westwood built, it never seemed to be enough.
In the opening minutes, Westwood blistered the perimeter and rolled to a 9-2 advantage only to watch the Lady Eagles use a 9-0 run to grab their first lead at 11-9.
But Westwood began to run the floor and used its quickness to build a double-figure advantage at halftime. The Lady Wildcats’ lead never fell below five until Arlington got hot beyond the 3-point arc in the final quarter.
The Lady Wildcats threw a stiff man defense, but the Lady Eagles still found a way to score from outside. Arlington opened the fourth on a 10-6 run to trim the deficit to a basket at 47-45 when Kasey Toles drilled a 3-pointer at the 4:29 mark.
But Callie Smith’s putback off her own failed attempt extended the lead to 51-47. Then after an Arlington timeout after the Lady Eagles missed a basket, Morgan Singleton drove the lane and banged a shot off the glass to give Westwood added cushion.
“This was a game where I could not quit shaking,” said Singleton, who finished with 10 points and converted two key second-half baskets. “Usually when you run, the jitters go away. But I kept looking at the clock and we’d score two and they’d score two. We did not want what happened last year against them to happen this year.”
After Singleton’s layup, Rachel Harrell helped extend the lead with a pair of free throws to make it 57-49 with 55 seconds left. But Toles kept Arlington within striking distance by drilling three 3-point baskets in the fourth, including an NBA-range trey that stripped the net with two seconds left.
However, Westwood was able to hold on by running out the final seconds to preserve the win.
“I thought our defense was pretty good,” Jenni Smith said. “We were closing the gaps on their dribble drives and everything. It wasn’t like the shots they hit, they were getting wide-open looks, but they were pulling up three to six feet behind the 3-point line and draining them. They hadn’t shot that well throughout the tournament.”
Rachel Harrell led the way with a game-high 17 points for the Lady Wildcats, while her sister Perra scored 14. Haley Marshall added eight.