Two years ago, Westlake’s boys basketball team made the state final against Milton and might’ve won, except that state player-of-the-year Marcus Thornton injured his ankle in warm-ups and hardly played.
This year, Westlake (16-2, 10-0) is under the radar without a player the stature of the 6-8 Thornton, now a Georgia sophomore, but ranked No. 3 in Class AAAAA. The team all but clinched the regular-season title in Region 2 on Tuesday with an 81-58 victory over M.L. King (14-6, 6-3).
“We were using that game to give us an idea of where we are,’’ coach Darron Rogers said. “I know they’ve got us ranked real high, but I didn’t know how they’d respond to a competitor that’s about equal to us. They’ve got good guards, post play, good coaching. It was a hostile environment. I think we performed like one of the top teams in state.’’
Tony Bagtas, a 5-10 junior, is Rogers’ top gun, averaging 21.5 points and seven assists. He was a part-time starter on Westlake’s 2010 runner-up team as a freshman. He’s being recruited by LSU, Tennessee and Georgia, among others.
In Tuesday’s game, Bagtas had 11 assists and 20 points. Keenan Williams scored 22. Jeremy Postell, the team’s tallest starter at 6-6, scored 18.
Westlake’s three main guards are Bagtas, Williams and Jalen Cummings, none taller than 6-1. Williams is a good perimeter shooter, Cummings the team’s top defender. The top guards off the bench are Christopher Thornton (no relation to Marcus), Cameron Carter and sophomore point Logan McIntosh.
‘’I think our guard play is the best in the state,’’ Rogers said. ‘’I don’t think Milton or anyone across the state has better guards. We’ve got three guys that can really go and three on the bench that can start for anybody.’’
The bigs are Postell, Myles Mann and Andre Elam, all 6-6. Postell is more of a combo guard who can shoot the 3 or play inside. Elam and Mann are key rebounders and shot blockers.
Rogers says he’s got a deep, athletic, defensive-minded team with an elite point guard to run things. Bagtas could be the key.
‘’He’s the best ball-handler in the state hands down, he can shoot the 3 from NBA range, and he’s hitting 90 percent of his free throws,’’ Rogers said of his floor leader. “Because of the 3, you have to come up and guard him, and if you foul him, he’s going to make his free throws. And his assists are spectacular.’’
McEachern’s girls pushed by North Cobb
Only one Georgia team has come within 10 points of beating No. 1 McEachern (19-0, 9-0) this season, and that team – North Cobb – has done it twice now. Playing without injued guard Te’a Cooper, McEachern beat North Cobb 64-61 on Tuesday. Pachiyaanna Roberts scored 30 points and had 14 rebounds for McEachern, which beat North Cobb (14-7, 6-4) only 50-41 on Dec. 9. McEachern had won six straight Region 4 games by at least 30 points.
One point separates Wheeler-Walton, again
Wheeler (10-7, 8-0) escaped Tuesday with a 72-71 victory over Walton (10-10, 2-5) by going 5-for-5 at the free throw line in the final minute. Walton (10-10, 2-5) has been disappointing in Region 4 but played Wheeler close this season. The score of the Dec. 9 game also was 72-71.
Nolte closing in on 100th win as starter
Milton’s 84-48 victory over Northview on Tuesday marked the 99th win as a starter for senior Evan Nolte, the Virginia signee who has played in three state championship games. Milton’s record with Nolte as a starter is 99-19. Three of those losses were forfeited wins earlier this season.