CARROLLTON – West Forsyth led the two-time defending state champions at halftime, but ran out of gas in the end of an 81-70 loss to McEachern in the Class AAAAAA semifinals Saturday night at The Coliseum at the University of West Georgia.
The game was a dual between West's Jenna Staiti and McEachern guard Jada Lewis. Staiti dominated in the paint, knocking down 17 field goals and made 15 of 18 free throws to total 51 points, frustrating the Lady Indians post players. Lewis paced her team to victory with 36 points.
Thirty of Staiti's points came in the first half, as she led the Lady Wolverines to a 41-36 halftime advantage. West had brief trouble with pressure from McEachern in the first half, but quickly used execution—through Staiti in the low post—to gain momentum.
“Our kids believed they could win the basketball game,” West head coach David May said. “We've played a lot better handling pressure over the last month of the season. I think we just got worn down there at the end. (McEachern) threw a lot of bodies at us and once you get tired you also get mentally fatigued.”
West ended its season 25-7, and a new bar for the deepest its program has gone in the state playoffs. Staiti, headed to the University of Maryland and a likely candidate for Georgia's player of the year, couldn't hold back her emotions as she left the floor. Her performance was enough to earn admiration from the crowd—much of the spectators were witnessing the 6-foot-5 center for the first time.
“It's been an outstanding run,” Staiti said. “Just the relationships I've built over the years with coach and my teammates, I don't want it to end.”
The game was also a career finale for point guard Hayla Seitz and wing Jane Ortlip. Ortlip knocked down two big 3-pointers and dished six assists, while Seitz—the shortest player on the floor—was active with three rebounds and three assists.
“With them, what I told them in the locker room. I'm super proud of them. How far we've come, just in the last month of the season is phenomenal,” May said. “It's always tough to lose that last game, especially when you're competing and you're right there.
“This was an incredible environment. I'm so proud of our girls. The entire community was behind these girls, and that was the fun thing about doing this. We got everybody rallied. It's been a really fun time to have so many people kind of come around one team, we'd get Tweets from other teams in the county and stuff, and our girls really soaked that in and took pride in that. They took pride in competing for a lot of people.”
West finished with 15 team assists. McEachern spent much of the second half forcing West into a fast paced game, turning steals into easy points. Chanel Wilson finished with 13 points and hit five big free throws down the stretch to help McEachern hold a double-digit lead. McEachern's biggest lead was 80-69 with just over a minute remaining in the game.
McEachern will advance to face Tucker in Saturday's state championship game.