By MacKenzie Bates
For the Forsyth County News
Members of Lambert’s boys basketball team admitted that losing in the semifinals of the Region 5-7A tournament on Wednesday was not the desired outcome. It means the Longhorns have to go on the road for the first round of next week’s state playoffs.
Lambert could still work for a better seeding, though, and after withstanding a late charge by Forsyth Central on Friday night, the Longhorns defeated the Bulldogs 75-70 to earn the region's No. 3 seed next week.
“We didn’t do a great job of protecting the ball and taking good shots down the stretch, but closing out a game like this, I think it will help us out down the road,” Lambert head coach Scott Bracco said.
In the fourth quarter, the Longhorns (21-6) took their biggest lead at 69-50 on a Will Baker corner three-pointer. Central would go to work on the inside, getting the ball to Akeem Washington for six of his team-high 16 points off the bench. Back-to-back three-point buckets by Jake Craft and Anthony Roveto brought the Bulldogs to within six points at 73-67 with 32.8 seconds left in the game.
The lead then fell to 74-70 on another Craft triple. Central forced another late Longhorn turnover, allowing the Bulldogs to get a good look at a layup by Reveto. However, it was blocked by Braxton Beaty to thwart the comeback.
“I didn’t like the way we started the game and that I don’t think we were ready to play,” Central head coach Greg Dirst said. “We just kind of hung around. We started attacking and getting in to the right spots. Akeem got inside and didn’t settle for jump shots. Once we could get the ball past the defense, we could get them a shot.”
The Longhorns raced out to an 8-0 lead at the start of the game, forcing four quick turnovers. Their defensive pressure did not allow the ball across the timeline for the first two minutes of the game. Baker said inserting Braden Bamburowski helped create those miscues.
“Bam’s just a lot more active and fast around the ball,” Baker said. “I think he really helped us with our press. It was a good switch to press the whole game and it allowed us to have success on defense.”
Lambert’s relentless pressure forced 28 Central turnovers, with 20 in the first half. The Longhorns took full advantage, turning them in to 17 points.
Baker scored a game-high 17 points and hit four of Lambert’s nine three-point baskets. Mitch Ganote scored 14 points for the Longhorns.Central got 14 points from Craft, 13 points from Roveto and 11 points from Jackson Leak.
Now the four seed, Central will face the winner of the Region 8 tournament, which won’t be completed until this weekend. No matter who the Bulldogs draw, though, they’ve made history as the first Central boys team to earn a spot in the state tournament since 2001.
“I was proud of them and I love these kids,” Dirst said. “They’ve done something that hasn’t been done in a long time. I was hoping we could get this game but I’m still proud as heck of them.”
Bracco said his squad is now accepting the road warrior mentality. With the path to a state title now tougher than what they originally envisioned, the Longhorns are going to have to work together to ultimately capture the ultimate prize.
“We’ve got five days of practice to prepare,” Baker said. “Coach Bracco has preached defense and knocking down shots. If we do that, we’ll get the result we want.”