COVINGTON -- Youth was nearly served in Wednesday night's first round state basketball tournament at Newton High School, but the occupants of the county's oldest gym were not ready to close it down for good and on the strength of their second half pressure were able to overcome 14 point first halftime deficit to defeat visiting Westlake 53-51. With the victory, the Lady Rams advance to the second round where they will face the winner of the Tift County/Campbell game.
Trailing 34-28 entering the final stanza Newton's season appeared to be on the brink of extinction. The hosts weren't ready to hand Westlake their seventh straight victory over the former region rival and Precious Price served notice she was ready for a change in the series. Facing a seven point deficit at 41-34, Price failed to convert on two missed free throws but kept her head in the game and calmly intercepted an errant pass converting the bucket to cut the lead to six points with four minutes remaining in the contest.
Following a Lady Ram timeout and what was to become all too common for the Lady Lions, a turnover, Price cut the lead to three with another bucket for the junior who led all scorers with 17 points, 12 of which came in the decisive fourth quarter. Westlake appeared to regain their composure with seven straight points which increased their lead to 48-38 with 2:16 remaining in the contest however it was a brief aberration.
Aided by six Westlake turnovers in the final two minutes, the Lady Rams caught and passed the visitors. With 1:25 remaining, Deandra Reed connected on a 3 cutting the Westlake lead to 48-43 and the pressure defense and Newton's unwillingness to close out the season. A Cynteria Langhorne layup was followed by a Westlake turnover which was followed by Price connecting on two free throws with 30 seconds left to tie the game at 49.
Following the free throws was Mercedes Booker intercepting a pass at half court and promptly being fouled. Booker converted on one of two pushing the Rams ahead for the first time since a Price trey in the opening minutes of the game.
Price wasn't through with her opportunistic defense as she stepped in front of more sloppy ball maintenance by the Lady Lions and following her steal was fouled. She calmly hit two free throws pushing the Rams ahead 52-49. Westlake had one final opportunity as freshman Marissa Cantrell was fouled on a three point attempt. Cantrell made the first two from the line, but her potential game tying shot missed and fell into Booker's hands. Booker converted on one of two free throws bringing the final total.
The first half was a different story as Lady Lions as they dominated their offensive boards and held Newton scoreless for five minutes in each of the opening periods. Newton took a quick 3-2 lead on a Price trey on their opening possession of the game but the remainder of the half was all Westlake as they took a 14-7 first quarter lead and a 28-14 lead into the locker room.