‘The sweet­est re­venge’

Rams inch closer to state ti­tle with win over West­lake

The Covington News - - SPORTS & LIVING - GABRIEL STO­VALL gsto­vall@cov­news.com

It’s an ar­guable mat­ter of dis­cus­sion to say that New­ton sopho­more Colby Rogers hit the game’s big­gest shots when he sunk four straight free throws in the wan­ing mo­ments of an 89-83 triple OT win over de­fend­ing state champ West­lake.

What prob­a­bly isn’t ar­guable, though, is the fact that Rogers had the quote of the night to sum­ma­rize New­ton’s tri­umph.

“They say that the sweet­est re­venge is suc­cess,” Rogers said. “So we had suc­cess tonight. We beat them and got them off our back. Now it’s on to the next game.”

Of course, the re­venge Rogers speaks of stems from the fact that this very West­lake team is the one which ousted New­ton from the state tour­na­ment last sea­son when the Rams were just a few min­utes away from earn­ing a chance to play Peb­ble­brook in the Class AAAAAA cham­pi­onship game.

And you’d best be­lieve that last year wasn’t far from the play­ers’ minds, even as they bat­tled through fa­tigue to keep their fo­cus.

“This game was real big,” said J.D. No­tae, who had a team-high 24 points in the win. “Like ev­ery day when we knew we had to play them, we’ve been think­ing about it. It was re­venge from last year. We were sup­posed to beat them last year, so we knew we had to come even harder this time. But it was a real dog fight, though.”

New­ton coach Rick Ras­mussen knew it would be. And he kept telling his play­ers that, even when, at one point the Rams went up by 19 points be­fore half­time. Even af­ter tak­ing a 14 point lead into the locker room.

“It was a war,” Ras­mussen said. “I knew that it would be. I told them at half time they weren’t go­ing to go away. We had to keep telling them to keep their heads up when we should’ve won the game in three dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions. We should’ve won

in reg­u­la­tion, the first and se­cond over­times. I thought we were the bet­ter team, but I knew as de­fend­ing state champs, West­lake wouldn’t go lightly.”

Se­nior Darvin Jones, who had 20 points in the game, in­clud­ing New­ton’s first eight, has been say­ing since the pre­sea­son that last year’s 64-59 Fi­nal Four loss to West­lake kept play­ing in his mind. But af­ter Thurs­day night’s win, Jones said he doesn’t have to think about it any­more.

“Man, words can’t even ex­plain it right now,” Jones said in the midst of an on-court cel­e­bra­tion af­ter the game. “I’m just glad we got the W. We got them off our backs. We knew that to make it to the state (cham­pi­onship game), we’d go through a lot of ad­ver­sity. But we also knew we had to dig down deep and get it.”

Se­nior cen­ter Josh Tukes, who had sev­eral blocked shots and key re­bounds while bat­tling down low against West­lake’s bigs — in­clud­ing 6-foot-8 Auburn pledge, Chuma Okeke — said that the West­lake win was just as much a con­fi­dence builder as it was a re­venge grab­ber.

“It felt like we took a big step in the direc­tion we want to go,” Tukes said. “We feel like we could play with any­body if we beat them. I don’t see no one who can stop us now. It was a huge re­lief to get over them tonight.”

Now, Tift County awaits. The Blue Devils de­feated Berk­mar 7255 Thurs­day night to ad­vance to meet New­ton Wed­nes­day at 7 p.m. And although the West­lake win touched off a cham­pi­onship-like cel­e­bra­tion, the Rams know that that game was just one big piece to their un­fin­ished state cham­pi­onship puz­zle.

“The good news is we’ve got un­til Wed­nes­day to calm down and get ready for Tift,” Ras­mussen said. “They’ll pose a great chal­lenge.”

It’ll be a chal­lenge Jones says his team will be up for.

“We’re keep­ing our eyes on the prize,” Jones said. “We’ll cel­e­brate tonight, but as soon as we get back on the court for prac­tice (Fri­day), we’re get­ting ready for our next op­po­nent. We’re not done yet. We’re still look­ing for that state cham­pi­onship.”

Pho­tos by An­thony Banks | The Covington News

Above: Darvin Jones squares up for three of his 20 points dur­ing New­ton’s Thurs­day night win over West­lake. Be­low: New­ton se­nior Isa­iah Miller flies in for a tom­a­hawk slam dunk dur­ing the Rams’ 89-83 state tour­na­ment win over West­lake Thurs­day.

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