By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
The axis of power in south Fulton basketball may have shifted from Westlake to Langston Hughes for the girls, but not for the boys. Tony Bagtas saw to that.
The senior point guard scored a game-high 32 points, 19 in the second half, to lead Westlake (21-4, 9-1 in Region 3AAAAAA), No. 8 in Class AAAAAA, to a 71-53 win over community rival Langston Hughes (10-13, 5-5) in the regular season finale for both teams.
In the girls game, No. 10 Hughes (20-2, 10-0) downed unranked Westlake (16-8, 6-4), 61-55, to win the regular season region crown and claim a spot in the state playoffs. It was the second time this season the Panthers had defeated the Lions. But the Westlake boys are still the bullies in the neighborhood that includes the two schools, located less than 10 miles from each other.
And Bagtas was the main reason. It was fitting that he was so dominant on Senior Night, which included a nicely-done ceremony for the retirement of the No. 2 football jersey worn by Carolina Panther quarterback Cam Newton, a former Westlake Lion who has been dominant in high school, college and in many games in the NFL.
“Tony’s a four-year starter for us at point guard and he’s our catalyst,” said Westlake head coach Daron Rogers. “He can do it all. He’s going to Penn so you know he’s intelligent and has basketball smarts. He can score the basketball, but tonight I was glad to see him show his toughness, too. He went to the hole and made some tough baskets tonight.”
Bagtas’ quick drives to the bucket supplied the inside scoring that was lacking, due to off games offensively by 6-foot-6 senior forward Andre Elam, who finished with 9 points, and 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Kejuan Johnson, who had 8.
Bagtas was content with playing his normal game early, which features him getting his teammates involved by guiding the offense and delivering pin-point passes. His short runner in the lane late in the second quarter gave the Lions their largest lead of the night at 31-19, and Westlake went to the locker room at halftime up 37-26.
But during the first six minutes of the third quarter, Hughes outscored Westlake 17-5. A layup by senior Shakeel Hoffman, who led the team with 16 points, capped a 12-0 spurt that gave the Panthers a 43-42 lead with just 1:30 left in the period. It was the first time Hughes held the lead since being up 6-4, early in the first quarter.
“We’re as talented as any team we’ve ever had here,” said Rogers, who has led Westlake to seven region titles, two state titles (1999 and 2002), runners-up finishes in 2006 (a team that included Newton at forward) and 2010, and three semi finals in 16 seasons at the helm. “We just need to play hard all the time. Sometimes we don’t do that, especially on defense.”
In the final 90 seconds of the third quarter, Westlake went on a 12-1 run to retake the lead, with 10 of those points coming from Bagtas. His scoring spree included a tough put-back of his own miss in the lane, and a half-court jumper at the buzzer to give the Lions a 54-44 lead. Hughes would get no closer than nine points the rest of the way.
“I like to get my teammates involved in the beginning,” said Bagtas. “But coach told me to be more aggressive tonight, and so that’s what I tried to do.”
Both he and Elam believe the team is beginning to play its best basketball at the right time, as the region tournament begins next week at East Coweta. The duo, along with fellow seniors Renard Battle and Caleb Green, said they talk about winning a state title all the time.
“Of course we do. You can’t help it,” Elam said. “It will be tough, but we have to keep going, keep playing.”
Langston Hughes (53) – Shakeel Hoffman 16, Monte Atkinson 15, Tyrell Sellman 8, Justin Williams 5, Jeremiah Culbreath 4, Kainan Hill 3, Khalil Smith 2
Westlake (71) – Tony Bagtas 32, Andre Elam 9, Kejuan Johnson 8, Tyler Williams 6, Richard Heard 5, Jayvis Brown 4, Dominic Joseph 3, Raymond Saunders 2, Renard Battle 2