Columbus jumped to a huge lead, gave it up as Carver-Columbus forced overtime, then escaped with a 69-67 win in the Class AAAA title game on Friday at Georgia Tech's McCamish Pavilion, giving the Lady Blue Devils their first state championship in program history.
Lady Blue Devils were trailing 67-66 in overtime when 6-foot-3 senior Tatyana Wyatt hit a corner 3-pointer with nine seconds left for the game-winner.
"We were either going to win it with the ball in my hands, or lose it with the ball in my hands," said Wyatt, a Kentucky commit who finished with a game-high 27 points, including 10-for-10 free throw shooting. "We just ran a play, I didn't get the ball in the post (as planned), so I decided to pop out. I know I can shoot the 3-ball so they gave me the ball and (the defense) was playing me a little off. I took a shot -- I knew it was going in because it came out right -- and I was just so excited when the ball went in."
With no timeouts left, the Lady Tigers inbounded and got the ball past mid-court and heaved a long 3 that missed off the backboard.
The Lady Blue Devils (25-5, No. 2 seed, Region 1) led by as much as 15 in the second half and were up 50-36 with 5:13 remaining. But the Lady Tigers (26-5, No. 1, Region 1) roared back to force overtime, with Alycia Reese calmly hitting two free throws to tie the game with 4 seconds left in regulation.
In three prior meetings this season, the matchup of region rivals was a bag of mixed results, with each team blowing the other out in the first two contests and the third coming down to the last shot, a 3-point buzzer beater in the region title game, which gave Carver the 54-53 win.
When the two met with a championship on the line, the finale featured a little of both.
Columbus slowly built its lead in the first half, pushing it to double digits in the first quarter and took a 33-21 lead into halftime. Carver shot just 26.7-percent (8 of 30) from the field in the first half to dig itself into a whole. The Lady Tigers appeared left for dead after somehow shooting worse in the third quarter, managing just one field goal in seven attempts to trail 43-30 heading into the fourth.
But the Lady Tigers came alive in that final quarter, with Ja'Nya Love-Hill scoring 11 points and Reese adding 7 as they used an effective full court press. They outscored Columbus 26-13 to force the overtime.
Carver took its first lead of the the game with 3:23 left in overtime at 60-58, and the lead changed hands five times after that. Love-Hill's layup gave Carver a 67-66 lead with 23 seconds left, which set the stage for Wyatt's game-winner.
"They've been resilient all year," Lady Tigers coach Anson Hundley said. "They worked hard, but (Wyatt) just made a big shot at the end. We did it to them one time (the region title game) and they came back and did it to us."
Carver was also seeking its first-ever state title. Love-Hill, only a sophomore, finished with a team-high 25 points, followed by Mariah Igus (15) and Reese (13). All three players will return next season.
"We look to make another run next season," Hundley said. "The program is going in the right direction, so we're going to keep it up."
However, this year belongs to the Lady Blue Devils, who made program history behind Wyatt (16 rebounds, five blocks), who, along with Brittany Floyd (11 points), helped to carry the team when Alabama commit Ariyah Copeland (12 points, 8 rebounds) exited the game with an ankle injury with 2:46 left in the third quarter and didn't return.
"It's history in Columbus," Joe Cherrone said. "Now we have a banner to hang in the gym and it means the world to these girls."