WOODSTOCK, GA -- The Wheeler-Walton rivalry is one of those rivalries that has to come down to the final buzzer. There's no real explaining the notion of why that is. It just is.
Multiply it by the stage of the Region 6-AAAAAA tournament championship and you had the feeling that the action on Tuesday night at Etowah High School would be nothing short of entertaining.
The billing didn't disappoint.
Wheeler guard Makhai Eastmond stole the ball from Walton star Elijah Weems just over the mid court line. Avery Patterson came screaming down the middle of the floor with his eyes glued on the basket.
"There was three seconds on the clock," Eastmond said. "I looked right at the clock and then saw Avery."
Eastmon got the ball to the sprinting Patterson who took the ball to the rim and scored as the buzzer sounded. Wheeler won the overtime region championship 78-76. The Wildcats dogpiled Patterson on the baseline and properly celebrated a hard-fought tournament championship.
"Just finishing the play was all I thought," Patterson said. "That's how we play. We play up and down. When he got the steal, all I had to do was leak out and I knew I could finish at the rim."
Patterson finished with 19 points and hit three big three-pointers in the contest. Eastmond was big in the passing game and delivered some key assists down the stretch.
Truth be told, the real story was Weems. Walton's senior scored 39 points in the defeat and hit six three-pointers. He scored 26 points in the second half and overtime period. Walton was down nine points going into the fourth quarter but his perimeter shot, aggressive style and calm demeanor on the foul line helped chip away the Wheeler lead.
"It has to finish like that," Patterson said of the rivalry. "It's been intense for a lot of years, long before I ever came to Wheeler. There's a lot of history behind it. I'm just Wheeler could come out with a 'W'."
Wheeler needed production from other places with Region 6-AAAAAA Player of the year Jaylen Brown and rim protector Daniel Giddens on the bench for a good part of the third quarter with foul trouble. Patterson provided some of it while big man Elijah Staley pumped in 20 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks.
This game had all of the drama fitting of the rivalry, stage and time of year. Madness is here. It was on full display on Tuesday night.
Both teams will be back in action on Saturday as the GHSA state playoffs tip off. Both schools will host a first round playoff game.