Standing in front of his team in a classroom at Friendly High School, girls basketball coach Carroll Holmes, emotional after the Class 3A South Region championship game against Westlake, could hardly get a word in.
It was difficult since a new song erupted from his players' mouths every minute or two, all revolving around a state championship theme. But the songs quieted when Holmes started tearing up, and the girls turned the moment into a group hug around the grey-bearded coach.
After losing in the region finals the past two years, Friendly got the win it had been waiting for, beating Westlake 61-28 at home on Friday night.
“This is the third time that we've gotten to the region championship, and this time we got it. So we're very happy. Very happy,” Holmes said.
Chayla Lewis (21 points), Damicia Armstrong (11) and Danielle Pray (10) led the Patriots in scoring. The Wolverines' leading scorer was Damira Banks with eight points.
Friendly played nearly flawless ball in the first half, using its full-court press to shake Westlake's confidence while shooting well in the offensive zone. Westlake turned the ball over 20 times in the first half, including 11 in the second quarter, and trailed 39-10 at halftime.
Armstrong scored all of her 11 points in the first half and went 3-for-3 from 3-point range.
“The pressure in the full-court press, we did really good on that,” Pray said. “The steals were there.”
Added Holmes: “We asked the girls to get after it defensively. We wanted that fast start. And we shot extremely well in the first quarter. We haven't shot it like that all year. ... So we were very happy with the start. The start was fantastic.”
Westlake started the game using slow possessions, eating up as much of the shot clock as it could before taking a shot.
After falling behind 17-4 in the first six minutes, the Wolverines started playing quicker and, in turn, gave the ball away frequently.
“When you're playing in a gym like this, you're trying to get easy baskets,” Westlake coach Ardell Jackson said. “When you get down by 20, you try to push the ball, get in transition and get some easy baskets. Friendly is a tough team. They were hitting on all cylinders. I've never seen them shoot that well all season. They were shooting the ball well all night. So at this point, hats off to them. They did what they needed to do.”
Lewis and Janay Carter, both seniors, made life difficult for Westlake in the paint. Lewis, listed at 5-foot-10, scored from seemingly anywhere on the court. She made one 3-pointer, converted several mid-range jumpers and showed off an array of post moves. On the defensive end, Carter (6-foot-1) made several blocks and forced the Wolverines think twice about driving to the basket and frequently altered release points on shots.
“They played big and they played physical,” Holmes said. “That's a combination of hard work the last three years. One thing the girls say is hard work is fair, hard work pays off. They've worked extremely hard and they're most deserving of this.”
Westlake went on a 9-1 run in the third quarter, but couldn't close the gap. Friendly scored its first field goal of the second half when Lewis made a 3-pointer with five seconds remaining in the quarter.
Friendly, which was the top seed in the 3A South, will play River Hill, the winner of the 3A East, in the state semifinals next week.
“I think we just have to keep working hard in practice and keep focused on states,” Pray said.
Friendly 61, Westlake 28
Westlake 4 6 9 9 — 28
Friendly 22 17 4 18 — 61
Westlake (18-7): Damira Banks 8, Paige Perminter 6, Breanna Gleaten 4, Chyna Hill 3, Alexis Smoot 3, Alexus Willey 2, Nialla Curtis 2
Friendly (20-4): Chayla Lewis 21, Damicia Armstrong 11, Danielle Pray 10, Breanna Brown 8, Janay Carter 7, Chandler Davenport 2, Alexis Fennell 1, Kalynn Stroman 1