By McClain Baxley
For the Forsyth County News
With about 15 minutes until tip-off, the West Forsyth boys basketball team took the court for warmups. A decently sized crowd erupted with cheers as the student section continued to file into the stands.
The Wolverines took a few shots and then huddled a final time before breaking off into their typical line drills.
Senior Jack Bock broke down the huddle as the team, which usually goes through layup lines with smiles and jest, wore stoic, nervous expressions.
At midcourt, senior Sterling Johnson stood wearing a grey t-shirt and sweatpants.
On the other side of the court, the fourth-ranked Milton Eagles went through the same drills, withstanding remarks and jeers from the West students.
West head coach Fredrick Hurt stood just in front of his bench, talking with the assistant coaches and waiting for one of the biggest tests West Forsyth boys basketball had been presented.
“The guys were certainly excited about this opportunity,” Hurt said. “You don’t get to play the fourth-ranked team in the state very often. There was a good crowd and that’s what high school basketball is supposed to be about.”
Both teams entered Friday night’s showdown 13-3 overall and 3-0 in region play. On one side, was Milton. A team that has looks from college recruiters and has a history of success on the hardwood, with four trips to the state championship.
On the other side stood West Forsyth — a team that has never won a region championship, much less competed for a state title.
Milton won the tip, scored quickly and much of the arena held its breath. Junior Tyler Lane responded to tie the game. Moments later, the Wolverines got a steal and junior Russell Miller hit a deep two.
Lane was beating Milton on the boards, crashing and guaranteeing free possession for the home team. Up 6-4 with 2:10 into the game, West’s student section started chanting “overrated” before Miller hit a three.
Nothing was working for the No. 4 Eagles and everything was hitting for the Wolverines.
Much of the momentum was fueled by Lane’s rebounding and junior Broc Bidwell hitting threes. For most of the first quarter, the home team didn’t need leading scorer Joseph Staiti, who didn’t come in until 1:54 left in the first.
Lane, who finished with 17 points, put an exclamation mark on a perfect first quarter with a three. He was swarmed by his teammates as time expired in the first quarter.
“We challenged all our guys to offensive rebound. We felt like Milton did a lot of things really good, but that was one thing that we could hurt them at, and we did early,” Hurt said. “Tyler had a great start and had a good game.”
But the game wouldn't continue to be a dream for the challengers. Milton’s Evan Hurst and Bruce Thornton didn’t stay quiet for long.
Milton took its first lead since 2-0 with Hurst hitting a corner three to make it 54-53 with 1:30 in the third quarter. After that, everything continued to flow for the Eagles who went on to win 84-66.
“They turned the defense up there in the second half,” Hurt said. “We missed some opportunities and didn’t shoot free throws well. It ended up being a much bigger score than the game was itself.”
In the second half, West went 5-for-10 from the charity stripe while Milton went 16-for-26. The Wolverines scored 30 points in the first quarter but were only able to score 36 the rest of the night.
Staiti, who Hurt said was battling injury, finished with just five points and only played two quarters. Johnson, who is one of West’s most effective weapons, was out the whole game.
“We think Sterling will maybe be back for Tuesday’s game, but we’re planning on definitely being back for Friday’s game,” Hurt said.
For nearly three quarters, the Wolverines gave Milton everything the No. 4 team in the state could handle.
“Basketball is a game of runs. We tell them that all the time. One of our assistants tells them it every day,” Hurt said. “(Milton) had just went on a run so we wanted to regroup. Right after that timeout, we came out and Bidwell hit a three. They’re so tough.”