The emotion of the moment was evident as Westlake coach Hilda Hankerson left the court after the Class AAAAAAA girls basketball final Saturday at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion.
With tear-filled eyes and weak knees, she gingerly escorted the championship trophy to her team’s locker room after a 60-45 victory over Newton that gave Westlake the first state title in program history. The Lions had been ranked No. 1 for most of the season and could finally feel the relief of completing the task.
“I think I got a little dehydrated, and I got light-headed. That and the emotion, all of it together,” Hankerson said.
The 15-point margin of victory was not indicative of how close the game was. A three-point play by Newton’s Jurnee Smith cut Westlake’s lead to 45-41 with less than three minutes to play, but the Lions (30-1) outscored Newton 15-4 in the final 1:45 to pull away. Neither team had led by more than seven points going into the final quarter.
Westlake’s Taylor Hosendove, the Region 2 player of the year, was limited by foul trouble for most of the game, so the Lions needed someone to take up the slack. They got it from Anastasia Warren and Raven Johnson.
Warren led the Lions with 22 points and had two 3-pointers during a 10-0 lead that turned a one-point deficit into a nine-point lead early in the fourth quarter. She also was 8-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final 4:35 as the Lions broke the game open.
Johnson scored 10 of her 15 points in the final 1:47, including five straight that gave Westlake a 50-41 lead with 1:16 to play. Johnson was 7-for-11 on free throws and had a game-high 11 rebounds. Westlake outrebounded the smaller Rams 52-39.
Hosendove had just two points in the first half, but Westlake made an effort in the third quarter to get her involved. She scored the Lions’ first six points of the half before picking up her third foul and returning to the bench. She finished the game with 10 points and six rebounds in 17 minutes.
Smith and Lexii Chatman did their best to keep Newton (28-4) in the game. They scored 20 of their team’s 24 first-half points to help the Rams build a 24-23 lead, and they finished with all but seven of their team’s 45 points. Smith led the way with a game-high 25, and Chatman had 13 points to go along with seven rebounds and three steals.
“We knew that it was going to be close, because everybody’s gonna fight for their life at this time of the season,” Hankerson said. “[Newton coach Tiffani Johnson] coaches very well, she’s got a great team, and we’ve been competitors for a long time. It was just a great season.”
Newton (45): Diamond Swift 2, Lexii Chatman 13, Jada Franklin, Erianna Card 1, Jurnee Smith 25, Takiya Cotton, Efia Edwards, Makayla Coleman, Rachel Hilliard 4.
Westlake (60): Anastasia Warren 22, Kennedy Hansberry 3, Taylor Hosendove 10, Simone Lett, Raven Johnson 15, Labreshia Raven, Carlyse Hooks 1, Kailyn Jackson, Shekinah Howard 5, Brianna Turnage 4.