Royal rumble to remember

Westlake edges Lovejoy in Queens of the Hardwood main event

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Chris Dunn / cdphotography23.com

Westlake sophomore Ta’Niya Latson fights for a layup against Lovejoy in the Queens of the Hardwood main event. Westlake and Lovejoy, both top-20 teams in the nation, played a thrilling game of basketball that ended in a 55-52 victory for Westlake. Latson, who received player of the game honors, led Westlake with 23 points. “I think I did good. I definitely have to improve on my jumper” Latson said. “Other than that, I think I did pretty good.”

To conclude a day filled with action, the last game of Queens of the Hardwood was between the Lovejoy Wildcats and the Westlake Lions. Both teams were number one in 6A and 7A, respectively, and top 20 teams in the nation. In the end, Westlake edged Lovejoy with a 55-52 victory.

“We was gonna make sure that everyone is ready to play,” Westlake head coach Hilda Hankseron said. “We’ll be going to Naples, Florida, and to Las Vegas. Hopefully this will help prepare us for that level of competition, because it’s going to be tough.”

Sophomore player of the game Ta’Niya Latson led the charge for Westlake with 23 points. Senior Lydia Freeman was second in scoring with 11 points. Four other players scored four or more points.The team averaged nearly 14 points per quarter.

Senior Genesis Bryant, Lovejoy’s leading scorer, was on par with Latson, scoring 23 points also. Sophomore Bryana Harden was the team’s second scoring leader with nine points. Two other players scored more than seven points, seniors Anaya Boyd and Kaziah Terrell.

“I think I played good. I definitely have to improve on my jumpers,” Latson said. “Other than that, I think I did pretty good.”

Lovejoy jumped out to an early lead. Westlake kept quickly struck back to keep the game close. When Lovejoy tried to continue to gain a big lead, Westlake prevented that from happening.

Bryant dropped nine points for Lovejoy while three other players scored two points. For Westlake, Latson scored seven points, with two other players contributing three points. Westlake was able to get one last layup to end the first quarter and tie the game 15-15.

Just bring energy to the table, even if we mess up, get back in the game, focus, and keep going hard.”

— Westlake senior Lydia Freeman

“[Our tone for the game] was make clutch baskets and keep pounding hard on defense and don’t let up,” Freeman said. “Just bring energy to the table, even if we mess up, get back in the game, focus, and keep going hard.”

The Lions started to pull away early, going off on a 8-0 run in the first three minutes of the second quarter. Freeman’s four points and contributions from Latson and junior Brianna Turnage helped set up a nice lead.

Lovejoy got their first points five minutes into the quarter. Terrell scored four points, and Boyd and Bryant scored some to help bring the Wildcats closer to the Lions. However, they ended the half down by a point with Westlake leading 23-22.

Three pointers finally began to rain down during the third quarter. The tension continued to build throughout the quarter. Both teams exchanged buckets in attempts to gain an advantage. Neither team could get away. The third quarter ended with the teams tied 37-37.

Chris Dunn / cdphotography23.com
Lovejoy senior Genesis Bryant shoots a layup. Bryant led scoring for Lovejoy with 23 points.

“We just stayed focused,” Latson said. “We played as a team, we had a gameplan, and we stuck with it.”

Lovejoy was already shooting bonuses a little over a minute into the fourth quarter. Both teams stayed at each other’s throats throughout the fourth quarter. Come three minutes into the game, Lovejoy was only trailing by two when a layup by Bryant, followed by a free throw, gave them a one-point lead.

A series of wild rebounds led to a foul that gave Westlake junior Raven Johnson the opportunity to make two free throws and give Westlake a one-point lead. A couple more free throws from the Lions extended their lead to three. Lovejoy then flopped on a layup, but a foul opened the door for a free throw that cut Westlake’s lead to two.

Less than ten seconds left the game, another foul on Lovejoy allowed Westlake to shoot a free throw that gave them back their three-point lead. Westlake outlasted two attempts by Lovejoy to tie the game, taking the narrow victory 55-52.

“Hopefully [this win] will help prepare us for the state tournament,” Hankerson said. “When you can play a game like that this early in the season, hopefully when you do meet that kind of adversity later on, it won’t be a surprise.”

Westlake’s record advances to 6-1. They will travel to Atlanta to play in the Peach State Classic this Friday. Their opponent and tipoff time is to be announced. Lovejoy loses their undefeated record, falling to 9-1. Their next game with take them to Stone Mountain, Georgia, to play Stephenson in a region matchup this Tuesday. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.