Bryan Richerson spotted something in the rafters when he recently took stock of the West Hall High gym.
Of all the banners hanging above the home court of his Lady Spartans basketball team, not one of them honored back-to-back region champions — a simple fact he made clear to his players before they took on Chestatee in Saturday’s Region 7-AAAA tournament championship game.
That won’t be the case for much longer.
No. 1 seed West Hall captured its second straight region championship and fourth in school history with a 48-38 win at Chestatee. On top of reaching a program milestone, the Lady Spartans (22-5) proved their unbeaten record in regular-season region play was no fluke.
“To go 10-0 in this region, that’s something special,” Richerson said. “That’s something to be proud of. I told them they can’t take this away from you. You come back 25 years from now, you get to bring your kids and say, ‘Hey, I was on that team.’ It’s something special.”
Junior guard Anna McKendree, the Region Player of the Year, scored 27 points to propel West Hall past the No. 2 seed Lady War Eagles (20-7). McKendree was instrumental in her team’s shocking run to last year’s Region 7-AAA tournament championship, which she said was a different experience than Saturday’s win.
“Last year we just surprised everyone. We weren’t supposed to win,” McKendree said. “This year, we had a little pressure on us going in to perform well every night. We overcame that, and that’s what makes it more exciting for us.”
The Lady Spartans certainly felt the pressure early against Chestatee, which hit consecutive 3-pointers to jump out to a 6-2 lead. The teams ended the first quarter tied 10-10 in front of a rowdy Lady War Eagles crowd.
That’s when McKendree took over, as she had done in big games so many times before.
The junior scored 16 of West Hall’s 19 second-quarter points, including a four-point play that finally gave the Lady Spartans a bit of breathing room and reignited their fans. McKendree said her heroics stemmed from a desire to not let down her senior teammates.
“She took some tough shots that we wanted her to take, and she made them,” Chestatee coach Web Daniel said. “That’s why she’s Player of the Year in our region. She’s a special player.”
But the Lady War Eagles remained pesky until the final whistle, reducing a double-digit deficit to just six points when junior guard Lindsey Caudell nailed a 3-pointer with less than three minutes to play.
West Hall senior guard Macy Passmore answered with a triple of her own, and McKendree helped seal the win with two crucial rebounds during the final stretch. Her final contribution was forcing a jump ball that flipped possession to the Lady Spartans, who drained the final minute off the clock before dogpiling on the court near their bench.
“We knew Chestatee would give us their best shot,” Richerson said. “Web does a great job of getting them prepared to play. But we hung in there, we fought through. I’m proud of these girls.”
Senior guard Avery Prather notched 10 points for West Hall, while classmate Danielle Hinkelman grabbed eight rebounds. Chestatee’s leading scorers were Caudell and senior forward Brooklyn Popham, who both finished with 15 points.
Despite the loss, Daniel said he feels good about his team’s chances heading into the playoffs, where its second-place region finish guarantees them a home game in the first round.
“I thought we played well, but we just didn’t execute when we needed to,” the coach said. “But that’s just West Hall. They come at you with a lot of different defenses,and they’re a well-coached team. We gave them our best. That’s all we can do.”
In the end, the Lady Spartans walked away with the region championship trophy and what will likely be a preferable path to the state semifinals.
Oh, and a new banner to hang in their gym.
“It’s good for our school,” McKendree said. “We take pride in our school. It just means so much to have back-to-back championships and bring that home to West Hall.”
WHITE COUNTY BOYS 60, WEST HALL 39: Senior forward Xzavier Reid racked up 12 points, five rebounds and four steals as the No. 4 seed Spartans fell in Saturday’s Region 7-AAAA tournament third-place game.
The No. 3 seed Warriors (17-10) sank six 3-pointers to build a 38-14 lead at halftime. West Hall (8-18) cut the deficit to as little as 15 but couldn’t find an answer for White County’s trio of double-digit scorers — John Ward (14 points), Clay Dockery (12) and Austin Harris (11).
Both teams have clinched a spot in the state playoffs and await the announcement of playoff seeding.