Three. That was the magic number Friday night (2/7/20) at Westlake High School when the Pebblebrook Falcons and Wheeler Wildcats met to decide the AAAAAAA Region 2 champion. Three is the number of times the Falcons and Wildcats have met on the hardwood this year, with each team squeezing out a tight victory on its home court. Three is the number of times Wheeler coach Larry Thompson has led his Wildcats to the region championship game, resulting in losses in two previous seasons, including a tough loss last year to Westlake. Three was Wheeler’s final margin of victory in the 70-67 overtime thriller.
“I feel great man . . . we’ve been working for this for three years . . . my third year here,” an enthusiastic and relieved Thompson said after the win. “We fell short to these guys two years ago at the buzzer. Westlake beat us last year in the same situation. It just feels good to get a region championship . . . one of the toughest regions in the state.”
The Wildcats jumped out to a quick six-point lead on six points from junior forward Ja’Hiem Hudson and four from Region Player of the Year Sam Hines, Jr., but the Falcons fought back with three 3-pointers from junior guard Danny Stubbs, Jr. A drive by sophomore guard Andre Young gave the Falcons a one-point lead at the end of the first quarter, 15-14.
Junior guard Caleb Washington came alive for the Falcons in the second quarter with six points, while sophomore point guard Juvon Gamory paced the Wildcats with eight, including two deep 3-pointers.
Aggressive defense and careless ball handing led to numerous turnovers by both teams, and allowed the Wildcats to cut into an eight-point Falcon lead.
“We turned it over too much in the second quarter,” said Falcons coach George Washington. “We’ve got to limit our turnovers and just be disciplined. We can win the game as long as we’re disciplined.”
The Falcons led 32-30 at the half.
The second half almost mirrored the first, with swarming defense and with both teams struggling to protect the ball. The Falcons would finish the game with 17 turnovers. The biggest difference was the play of Hines and senior guard Prince Davies, who joined his Wildcat teammate on the All-Region team, and Caleb Washington, who shared All-Region honors with teammates Danny Stubbs and Jamall Clyce.
The scrappy Hines scored 15 of his team-leading 19 points in the second half and overtime. Davies scored 11 after the break, following a quiet first half. Washington kept the Falcons close with 15 points on a variety of drives, mid-range jump shots, and free throws.
Clutch baskets and foul shooting by both squads led to a 62-62 tie at the end of regulation.
The Falcons went on a quick 5-0 run to begin overtime and seemed to have the game in hand until Hudson’s thunderous baseline dunk cut the lead to three following a Wildcat timeout. The Falcons would not score again, and the Wildcats went on to tie the game at 65 and to take a three-point lead for the final margin, 70-67.
Pebblebrook will host Woodstock and Wheeler hosts Etowah this weekend in the first round of state play. Good luck to both teams!