As landmark victories go, they don’t get much sweeter than Veterans’ victory over Westside on Friday.
The Lady Warhawks, in their second season, never trailed and hung on to top Westside 35-33 when a final-second shot by the Seminoles’ Braxtyn Talton bounced off the rim as time ran out. The Lady Warhawks led following a lay-up by Mikia Robinson seconds earlier.
“Now, everyone is going to be like, ‘Wow, we beat Westside,’ ” said Robinson, whose 19 points led Veterans.
With the victory over one of the most heralded girls basketball programs in Middle Georgia, Veterans finds itself a game below .500 following a 1-6 start.
“I basically told them, ‘They’re the best in the region; this is how we measure ourselves,’ ” Veterans head coach Nicole Miranda said.
For Westside, it’s the second loss in three games for a senior-laden squad, an effort that has prompted head coach Deb Baber to hint at a shuffle in the starting lineup, regardless of the players’ seniority.
“We’ll go to some more young players if our veterans aren’t going to get it done. We’ll go to our younger players and let them have fun,” Baber said. “Our seniors want to have fun. They’ll have fun on the bench.”
Talton led Westside with 16 points.
Despite trailing, Westside fought to the end, rallying from as many as 11 points down to tie the score at 33 with fewer than 30 seconds remaining on a Daisha Terry jumper from the corner.
But he Lady Warhawks rose to the occasion. Veterans advanced downcourt, beating Westside’s defensive pressure and getting the ball under the basket to Robinson for the game-winning score.
Robinson had no doubt that her shot would make it in the basket.
“When I went in for the layup, I was like, ‘This is going to win the game,’ ” she said.
The view was not as pleasing from the Westside bench.
“We had a kid on the backside,” Baber said. “She was right there and stood and watched her make the layup.”
Veterans, however, felt pressure long before the final seconds.
The Lady Warhawks surged to a 5-0 lead to start the game and held Westside to two second quarter points for a 17-9 halftime lead.
The Seminoles opting to take shots from the outside and giving up 14 offensive rebounds contributed to the slow start, preventing Westside from gaining early momentum.
The Seminoles pulled closer in the second half, staying within striking distance of the lead.
“I told them at halftime, ‘They’re going to make a run, whether it’s the third quarter or the fourth quarter,’ ” Miranda said. “It’s their gym; they’re a senior team. We’ve got to stand strong.”
Throughout the second half, Westside turned up the defensive heat, pressuring Veterans in its own backcourt. The Lady Warhawks didn’t budge, however, and the lack of turnovers on their own end of the floor ended up being critical later.
Westside made a stab at the lead, with a 7-1 fourth-quarter run drawing them within a point tightening the score to 28-27 with 2:39 to play. Veterans hit right back, leading 32-27 following a shot from under the basket by Khalya Owens and a pair of free-throw by point guard Aspen Coggins.
“I’m super proud of the fact we grew up a little bit, “ Miranda said. “We maintained our composure and just took it right back at them.”
In a matchup of a pair of region boys basketball heavyweights, Westside scraped out a razor-thin 68-67 victory, a win that was clinched by free throws.
Westside’s Ronnie Mays went to the free-throw line multiple times in the fourth quarter and handled the pressure well, making 7-of-8 shots from the line in a game that saw each team stay within two possessions of one another for most the way.
The foul shots loomed even bigger at the final buzzer, when the War Hawks’ Wyman Hollingshed drained a 3-pointer to make the final margin of victory one point. A few missed free throws may have caused the game to go into overtime or powered Veterans to the win.
Chandler Watts led Veterans with 17 points and Mays led Westside with 17.