Westlake coach Hilda Hankerson wasn’t sure what to expect from the defending state champions this season. But it didn’t take long for her to realize that this group of young Lions had the potential to duplicate the success of their forerunners.
On Saturday night the No. 1-ranked Lions capped off an undefeated season, beating No. 2 Collins Hill 60-53 in the Class AAAAAAA girls final at the Macon Coliseum. Westlake finished the season 30-0 and extended their winning streak to 50 games.
Not bad for a team that began the season with one experienced player.
“Every one is sweet, but this time we did it with no seniors,” Hankerson said. “Everybody on this team rode the bench last year, except for one person. For tis team to do this is an outstanding feat and to go undefeated is a miracle.”
Among the season’s great stories is the emergence of 6-foot-5 junior Lydia Freeman, who had not played basketball until her freshman season. Hankerson said Freeman was so raw that even rudimentary aspects of the game had to be explained. “We had to tell her, ‘This is the free throw line.’ Things like that,” she said.
Freeman’s improbable journey now includes a state championship. She scored 16 points and had nine rebounds and two blocked shots in the title game.
And that one girl with experience? Raven Johnson scored 16 points with five rebounds, four assists and two steals. Her floor leadership was essential, particularly in the second half when Collins Hill began to get back into the game.
“She’s the key,” Hankerson said. “You’ve got to have that head on the team and she’s far beyond her years. She’s a sophomore, but she plays like an upperclassman. We’re thankful to have her.”
Westlake also got 14 points and seven rebounds from Brianna Turnage and seven points, four assists and four rebonds from Carlyse Hooks.
Collins Hill (30-2) was led by Javyn Nicholson with 17 points and 15 rebounds. Brian Harmon scored 13.
Westlake dominated the first quarter, taking a 17-8 lead, and stretch it to 25-10 with 4:14 left in the half.
Collins Hill began to claw back into the game late in the half and trailed 32-21 at the break. The Eagles outscored Westlake 21-10 in the third quarter were within two points late in the period, despite losing all-region guard Jordan Releford with a leg injury that sent her to the training table. Releford crumpled to the court holding and slapping her knee while crying out loudly in pain.
Westlake used a 6-0 spurt in the middle of the fourth quarter to take a nine-point lead and Collins Hill never got closer than five.
“We missed some defensive assignments, but we held on and pulled it out,” Hankerson said. “That’s all that matters.”
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