South Forsyth didn't have an answer for the 6-foot-5 Jenna Staiti—until it did, with less than 30 seconds remaining and a two-point lead.
After Staiti's future University of Maryland teammate Sarah Myers, who struggled with her shot for much of the game, missed one of two free throws, West Forsyth trailed 61-59 and Staiti returned up the floor and into the post, where she had already scored 46 points on a remarkable 18-of-21 clip.
But on West's final feed to Staiti, South's Zoe Maisel gathered in the pass and Myers, alertly, called timeout on the baseline before Staiti could muscle the ball back into West's possession. Emily Dreslinski scored on a bucket on a runout inbound out of the timeout, and West threw away a last-second chance to tie the game on a three as South defeated its rival 65-62 on Monday.
While the late moments were tense, South head coach Keith Gravitt was proud of the way his team battled the entire game, despite being overwhelmed by Staiti's performance.
“I don't think we held on,” Gravitt said. “I think we fought the whole game. It was just two great teams battling out to the end.”
For the Lady War Eagles, the team of just eight players improves to 12-0 in Region 6-AAAAAA—now alone in first place in the standings, while West (13-3, 11-1) suffered its first loss in league play.
Staiti's dominant line of 46 points, nine rebounds and four assists came just a day after learning she wasn't selected, after being nominated along with Myers, for a McDonald's All-America position. Her all-American performance was all too familiar to South head coach Keith Gravitt.
“I don't think I've ever done a good job of defending Jenna Staiti. She's great,” Gravitt said. “There's a reason she's considered ... the best player in the state of Georgia. She proved it out there with great touch, great hands. She's just really tough to defend.”
Maryland assistant coach Shay Robinson looked on as his two future freshman battled it out, but Myers was picked up by balanced play from her teammates while she calibrated her mid-range game. Still, Myers showcased her impact by leading South with 24 points. None of Myers' shots were bigger than her only 3-pointer of the game, which broke a 58-all tie with a minute to play in the contest.
That tie was created by Myers' backcourt mate K.K. Storms, who dazzled with eight assists and three steals in the game. Storms knocked down two clutch free throws to the tie the game.
South took an early 27-14 lead, using precision passing against West's zone to create open looks. Dreslinski was a force for the War Eagles, finishing with 16 points. She hit two 3-pointers in the first half. South's Mari Jonassen scored 10 points, making five field goals.
West battled back with Staiti, who often made baskets plus the foul, and finally took a 39-38 lead with 3:50 to go in the third quarter. Jane Ortlip was the next-highest scorer for West with six points, though she added five assists.
Despite the loss, West coach David May thought the environment, which was tuned with a near-capacity crowd, rowdy students, and even members of the Lambert and North Forsyth girls basketball teams, would prepare his team for bigger games in the future.
“It's good to be in that type of environment, obviously,” May said. “That's a region championship environment and we want to be in as many games like that as we can to get that experience moving forward.”
South boys 55, West 40
Evan Cole scored 24 points, including a 3-pointer to open the scoring, as South led the entire game to earn a region victory over the Wolverines.
South improved to 8-11 (4-8), while West fell to 4-14 (2-10).
Cole had three big dunks, including alley-oops, assisted by Santhosh Saravanan and Joe Brandon, while also showcasing his polished mid-range jumpers and fluid feet under the basket.
While Cole scored, South head coach Scott Givens was encouraged by defense.
“That was a grinder," Givens said. "We've been struggling the last three games and needed a win...yesterday in practice we really got on them about how we defend as a team. We have been struggling defensively, but tonight we defended.”
Givens also mentioned freshman Sebastian Mallory, who hit two 3-pointers.
“He hit two big shots in big moments,” Givens said.
John Peterson led West, scoring 15 points, including six shots from the field, and Isaiah Magee added 10 points for the Wolverines.
West's problem came down to missed shots close to the basket.
“Well, we had about 17 shots within three feet of the goal. If we make half of those, we win, so we just have to keep working,” West head coach Jake Dickey said.