MACON — For the third consecutive season, the Westlake Lady Lions are champions of the state’s highest classification.
Led by Raven Johnson and TaNiya Latson, the Lady Lions defeated the Collins Hill Lady Eagles 72-53 in the Class AAAAAAA championship on Saturday at the Macon Centreplex in a rematch of last year’s title game.
The top-ranked Lady Lions (31-2) are now 90-0 against Peach State teams, Westlake coach Hilda Hankerson said — according to their record on Maxpreps, the streak is at 79 — dating back to 2017. With the win, they prevented the No. 2 Lady Eagles (31-1) from achieving perfection and their first state title since 2007.
“This means a lot because of all the hard work we’ve put in,” said Johnson, a 5-star guard for the class of ‘21 who, along with Latson, had a game-high 23 points.
The Lady Lions never trailed and were nearly unstoppable from the field, shooting 63.4 percent (26-of-41), including 3-of-7 from behind the 3-point line, while holding the Lady Eagles to 33.9-percent shooting (2-of-12 from 3-point range).
In the second half, the Lady Eagles never got closer than 49-38 with 16 seconds left in the third quarter.
This marks the third season in a row Westlake has beaten Collins Hill in the playoffs. The Lady Lions beat the Lady Eagles 60-53 in the 2019 championship and 59-34 in the 2018 quarterfinals.
Hankerson, who has led the Lady Lions since 1997, said it hasn’t been easy pulling out three consecutive state titles — the only three in program history.
“It is so hard the world can’t even believe it,” Hankerson said. “They’re so used to winning that even when you tell them they have to work harder to win the third one, they pointed to (their win streak against in-state teams). That’s when it got really hard. They saw the banners and looked at their record right now. I told them teams are still trying to beat them.”
During Hankerson’s remarkable run at Westlake, her teams have never endured a losing season and qualified for the state playoffs in all but two years.
“We’ve had some strong programs in the past,” Hankerson said. “This bunch right here is reaping the benefits of their labor as well. Had we not been a good program (the current players) may have been trying to transfer somewhere else.”
The Lady Lions’ defense, led by a quickness advantage from guards Johnson, Latson and Carly Hooks — the three combined for five of the team’s seven steals — made it tough on Collins Hill to score and generated easy baskets on the other end.
“When those three are on the floor our team is much faster than the average team,” Hankerson said.
Westlake steamrolled through the state tournament, beating opponents by an average of 32 points. In addition to Saturday’s 19-point victory, playoff wins included Etowah (73-31), Archer (71-30), Norcross (63-34) and No. 3 Cherokee (62-33).
The Lady Eagles were led by class of ‘21 4-star Sacha Washington (16 points, 11 rebounds), Eden Sample (14 points) and Asjah Inniss (13 points, 10 rebounds).
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