7A Girls: Westlake 60, Newton 45

Westlake captured its first girls title by pulling away from Newton in the final minute.

ATLANTA — The Class AAAAAAA girls basketball championship game was a back-and-forth fight for the lead. With eight lead changes throughout the game, both teams fought hard until the clock ran out to try to take home the championship title. In the end, free throws and stellar defensive play helped the Westlake Lions edge out the Newton Rams to take home the championship, 60-45.

Westlake started the game off strong, scoring five straight points within 1:30 of play. Senior shooting guard Anastasia Warren, who was responsible for three of those, backed up her early production with a made jump shot late in the first to help extend the Lions lead to three with a score of 10-7. Raven Johnson closed out the first quarter with a mid-range jumper, making it a 12-7 game in favor of the Lions.

Westlake lost its lead for the first time in the game late in the second quarter after sending several Newton players to the line. During the first half, nine of Newton’s 24 points were scored from free throws.

Warren brought the Lions within one point after a long three-pointer with six seconds to go in the first half, bringing her to eight first-half points. Down 24-23, the Lions entered the locker room looking to take the lead.

“We knew it was going to be a close game,” said Westlake head coach Hilda Hankerson. “Everyone fights for their life at this time of the season.”

Westlake did eventually take the lead in the third quarter, but it was too close for comfort up until the very end of the game. With 1:10 remaining in the third, the Lions began an 8-0 run fueled by Warren and Johnson to end the quarter and put them on top 39-32, the biggest lead of the game so far.

“Our shots weren’t falling, so I felt I had to take it to the basket,” said Johnson. “Their team was small, and I knew I could draw the foul.”

Making free throws became the game-changer for the Lions. They continued drawing fouls and took advantage of their time on the line. After just four points from the line in the first half, Westlake went 17-of-26 in the second.

Rams senior point guard Jurnee Smith was the team’s best hope for a comeback. Her nine points in the fourth quarter led the team but were not enough to surpass the Lions. Westlake held onto the ball to end the game and took home its first girls title. Johnson ended the game with 15 points and 11 rebounds, while leading scorer Warren had 22 points and grabbed three rebounds.

“This not only means a lot to this team, but it means a lot to the entire Westlake family,” said Hankerson after the game. “Four Final Fours, so many Elite Eights, 23 playoffs, and this one makes 24. It was a great season, just a great season.”

Smith ended the game with 25 points and six rebounds for the Rams.

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