The plan with less than 10 seconds left and Forsyth Central trailing by a point was for Dominic Patterson to drive to the basket and look to kick a pass out to guard Anthony Roveto in the corner for a 3-pointer. But as Patterson made his move, he noticed Roveto was well-guarded, Patterson was several inches taller than his own defender and he was going to the right, his dominant hand.
So Patterson seized the moment and trusted in own capability.
"I work on like 500 shots every morning," Patterson said.
Patterson's floater went up and over his defender, banking off the backboard and in, and after South Forsyth's deep 3-pointer bounced off the front of the rim at the buzzer the Bulldogs erupted on the court in celebration over a 49-48 victory that was their first in Region 5-7A this season.
"I'm so proud of our guys," Central head coach Greg Dirst said. "It's been a struggle all year. We've had a ton of games like that ... where we've lost by 3 or 4 points where it's at the end of the game. I'm just so proud that they hung together."
The game-winning play perfectly encapsulated how Central (5-14, 1-4) overcame a 39-34 deficit entering the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs consider themselves the biggest team in the region, but up to that point they had settled for too many jumpshots rather using their size advantage for more close-range opportunities.
Patterson led the charge to attack the basket more frequently in the fourth quarter. Indeed, Central attempted just three free-throws in the first three quarters combined but 10 in the fourth quarter alone. Patterson attempted six of those, making five, and he scored 11 of his game-high 17 points in the final quarter.
The win was much-needed for the Bulldogs' standing in the region. Inclement weather last week caused Central's game against Lambert on Tuesday to get postponed to this Wednesday, crowding their schedule next week with four games in five days, including three in the region against county rivals.
"This is good momentum to win the rest (this week) and get up in the region (standings)," Patterson said.
The win also seemed much-needed for the Bulldogs' psyche. Entering the season, Dirst knew his team lacked varsity experience, but he also noticed it was a close-knit group. That much was clear in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's win. Players jumped in the air bumping chests before running into the visitor's locker room. Dirst and his assistant coach high-fived as they walked back to the rejoin the team.
When they opened the door, a roar of joy and relief met them.
South girls 43, Central 17
When the War Eagles and Bulldogs met earlier this season on Dec. 15, it was both teams' first region game. South needed time to get comfortable with a much-improved Central team, so it waited to turn on its pressure defense. Once it did, that became the turning point for a victory that was still closer than expected.
South (12-8, 3-2) was unrelenting this time. The War Eagles' pressure started from the first seconds and produced a turnover on Central's opening possession. Eventually, the pressure produced all manner of turnovers: double dribbles, travels, steps out of bounds, errant passes.
The pressure continued unabated, and so did South's commanding lead, from 14-2 after the first quarter to 26-4 by halftime and 39-7 by the end of the third quarter.
"The girls were everywhere, had active hands," South head coach Keith Gravitt said. "Had a lot of deflections early that we didn't get, but we got our hands on some. I was really happy with the effort, intensity and girls flying all over the court out there."
South's Zoe Maisel led all scorers with 16 points to go along with nine rebounds, while Ashley Breindl added seven points, six rebounds and two assists and Sara Idris had four points and seven rebounds.
Morgan Day led Central (9-11, 1-4) with six points.