By Derrick Mahone
DULUTH - With two minutes remaining in the Class AAAA girls' championship game, administrators at Southwest DeKalb started passing out championship T-shirts on the bench.
The way the Panthers played in their 65-45 win over Northwest Whitfield Friday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, the commemorative shirts could have been distributed after the end of the first quarter.
Southwest took control of the game in the first six minutes of the game, and never looked back in winning its historic third straight championship. It was the first time that a team has won three straight Class AAAA titles since Morrow from 1989-91.
The Panthers, who defeated Forest Park on Wednesday to earn a spot in the championship game, jumped to a 24-3 lead with 2:04 remaining in the first quarter.
It came as a surprise to many of the players.
"We are not usually a first half team," Southwest senior guard Chancie Dunn said. "We came out in the first quarter with a lot of power. We were definitely relaxed playing in here, because we consider this our second home."
Southwest applied the same game plan like Dutchtown tried in its loss to the Bruins in Wednesday's semifinals game, but the Panthers did so with a little more urgency. The Panthers decided to play straight man-to-man defense and wanted to get physical with Northwest inside duo of Quaneisha McCurty and Christy Robinson.
Northwest guard Jordi Cook, who torched Dutchtown with her 3-point shooting, was a non-factor in the championship game. Cook finished with only 10 points, six in the first half. She didn't get her first basket until 5:07 remaining in the second quarter, and Southwest had already built a 25-14 lead.
"It was man-to-man, woman-to-woman defense," Southwest coach Kathy Richey-Walton said. "We didn't want any help. I think we sort of got in their heads. It was a great opportunity for them (Northwest) to make a name for themselves."
Richey-Walton also didn't want Northwest's large crowd to let into the game. For the most part, they stood in silence as the Panthers dominated from the start.
"I think they closed the town down," Richey-Walton said. "We had a small, but mighty crowd."
Southwest players said the key was taking the game to Northwest, and not letting them dictate their halfcourt offense.
"We were really emotionally focused for this game," said Southwest guard Kayla Lewis, who finished with 18 points. "We haven't been playing our best basketball in the playoffs, but we really brought the energy today. We watched a lot of tape on them, and we knew they didn't like to be touched. We got physical and played our style. Their inside people didn't have a lot of girth."
Despite all its rich basketball tradition, Southwest becomes the first DeKalb County team to win three consecutive titles for either a boys or girls team.
It was an accomplishment that the Southwest players were well aware of.
"They knew the history," Richey-Walton said. "DeKalb has had, and we still have, some good teams. This is just special. I just told my kids to stay humble during these last three runs."