West Forsyth girls basketball coach Mallory Ranfos originally planned to limit Katherine Bottoms' minutes Friday night.
However, Bottoms kept giving her coach reasons to leave her in.
Bottoms forced a pair of crucial turnovers late in Friday's game, Cayla Cowart knocked down the game-winner from the free-throw line with 4.6 seconds remaining, and West overcame a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat South Forsyth 45-43.
"I thought we came out soft and they popped us in the mouth," Ranfos said. "We talked about them crashing the boards well. We gave up 10 offensive boards in the first quarter, and that really hurt us. We were lucky to be only down by five. We came back in the second quarter and did a much better job; I think we held them to only 17 offensive boards the rest of the game. I don't like how inconsistent we were, but then again, we fought. We were lucky to come out with a W."
Bottoms was playing in her first game back from injury. Her first steal led to a three-point play by Molly Quincy, who hit the layup plus the and-one to trim South's lead to 41-38 with 2:53 to play.
Moments later, after a free throw by Cowart, Bottoms stole a pass around midcourt and fed the ball to Calie Thrower, whose layup cut the deficit to two points with 1:37 left in the game.
"We are very happy to have Katherine back," Ranfos said. "Her length is surprising to people, and she's gotten so much better as an on-ball defender and she can consistently knock down the three. We're happy to have her back."
After a bucket to tie the game, and with 8.3 seconds left on the clock, Audrey Anderson heaved the inbound pass to Cowart, who caught the ball on the block and jumped for the layup. Cowart's shot bounced off the iron, and Cowart snagged it out of the air and was fouled on the way back down with 4.6 seconds remaining.
Cowart knocked down both free throws for good measure, finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Cowart didn't feel much pressure at the free-throw line.
"I used to have this thing like, 'OK, I have one word and I need to think about it while I'm doing my routine.' Now I just need to keep it consistent, I need to breathe and then just stare at the rim. That's it," Cowart said. "And if you miss, just wait a second and go get the board. I'd been shooting a lot recently, and my 3-point wasn't on, but I was confident in my free throws tonight."
The War Eagles started the game much like they did earlier this season on Dec. 7, when they topped West 59-51.
Ava McGlockton was a mismatch early, collecting five points and four boards in the first quarter alone. Jadyn Kniceley was also active on the glass with four rebounds, including a putback on the game's opening possession.
In all, South outrebounded West 11-3 in the first quarter.
However, West adjusted to the War Eagles' inside presence in the second quarter, and Cowart began guarding McGlockton in the low post.
"She's a winner, so she's going to find a way to put us in a good situation to win," Ranfos said. "She's also very competitive, and she wants to guard Ava inside. I thought she did a very good job playing with four fouls late. She stepped up on both ends of the court."
Bottoms fired off a 3-pointer to open the second quarter to make it a one-possession game, and West scored seven of the half's final nine points to carry an 18-17 lead into halftime.
South dominated the first 10 minutes after halftime, finding creative ways to distribute the ball, which began with a 3-pointer from Amelia Brown and continued with Maggie Thompson driving to the basket to give South a 23-22 lead.
Two possessions later, South set a screen that allowed Sharon Tolliver to knock down an open jumper, capping a 9-0 run and giving the War Eagles a 27-22 lead with 3:31 left in the third.
Cowart answered with a 3-pointer, but Clara Morris drained back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 33-25.
Bottoms hit a pair of free throws to make it a two-possession game entering the fourth quarter, but Morris sank her third 3-pointer of the night moments into the fourth quarter to make the score 39-27 and give South its largest lead of the game.
However, West's comeback began soon after, and the Wolverines ended the game on an 18-4 run.
Cowart picked up two fouls early in the fourth quarter and played much of the final frame with four fouls.
"Ranfos even said that I was being a little aggressive for having four fouls, but I think in that game, you can't play scared or they'll just capitalize on it," Cowart said. "I kept playing hard on defense, because I knew someone off the bench could come in and do the same thing if I did foul out."
West [16-4, 6-2 Region 6-7A] has won five straight games and will travel to Roswell at 2 p.m. Saturday before resuming region play Tuesday at North Forsyth. South [15-6, 5-3 Region 6-7A] will look to snap its three-game skid Tuesday at Forsyth Central.