Tension was mounting in the Eagles’ Nest after Forsyth Central cut South Forsyth’s lead to five with 5:52 left in the fourth quarter.
But not for senior forward Douglas Cotter.
Cotter scored a team-high 18 points while shooting 50 percent from the field, as South closed the game on a 13-4 run and knocked off the Bulldogs 65-51 on Monday in the War Eagle Classic to give Manson Hill his first win as head coach.
"[Central] gave us a run there in the fourth quarter, but we held tight," Cotter said. "We had to keep our composure and focus on their key shooters. We expected a hard game from them."
South’s Kevin Sullivan scored 16 points and Greer Landry added 10. Central was led by T.J. Custer, who had a game-high 19 points, while Ryder Bowline (13) and Clint Fenton (12) were also in double figures.
South (1-0) has beaten Central (0-1) in each of the past two meetings. The War Eagles ended the Bulldogs’ 2011-12 season earlier in the year with a 52-51 overtime victory in the opening round of the Region 7-AAAA tournament.
The War Eagles’ season came to a close in the second round of the region tournament last season, and though the team has improved its record each of the past three seasons, they’ve gone just 14-64 during that time.
Hill, who led Gainesville’s girls basketball team to 13 consecutive playoff appearances and four state titles, was hired in the spring to get South back on track.
"[The first win] feels really good," Hill said. "Anytime you play a rival school and you win at home it feels good."
South jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead in the first quarter before Cotter recorded his first dunk in a game, sending the South student section into a frenzy.
The War Eagles pushed the lead to 12-2, which prompted Central head coach Greg Dirst to call a timeout to calm his team. The timeout worked as Central cut the lead to 15-7 at the end of the quarter, but the adjustment didn’t last for long.
The War Eagles’ fast-paced offense rattled off 20 points in the second quarter and the defense forced 10 turnovers in the first half to take a 35-23 lead into halftime.
"We try to have a balanced approach [on offense]," Hill said. "We have players who can shoot 3s, players who can take the ball to the basket and players that can score inside. We look at [what the defense gives us.]"
The Bulldogs threatened the War Eagles’ lead in each quarter, but were never able to get over the hump and narrow the gap beneath five points after the opening minutes of the game.
Central trimmed its deficit to 41-35 with 2:45 left in the third quarter and forced Hill to call a timeout, but South found its offensive stride again and closed the quarter ahead 52-43.
Dirst, who is in the first season of his second stint as the Bulldogs’ head coach, said timely plays by the War Eagles made the difference.
"Our kids kept playing and plugging along, but every time we’d get it close, it seemed like [South] would get an offensive rebound or they’d hit a 3-pointer or something like that," Dirst said. "I have to do a better job of putting [the players] in a better situation to try and win games. They whipped our tail tonight."
Cotter said South’s camaraderie was also a big factor in the game.
"Our new coach has brought us together as a team so far this year," Cotter said. "We’ve had more fun than we’ve had in a while playing. There was a lot of enthusiasm out there on the court tonight.
"We’re closer as a team [than last year], quite honestly. It’s like a brotherhood [in the locker room]."