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Basketball: West boys left bruised but proud after first-round playoff loss to Duluth
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West Forsyth's Joseph Staiti goes up for a layup during the Wolverines' first round playoff game against Duluth on Feb. 17, 2018 at West Forsyth High School. - photo by Michael Chung

The West Forsyth boys basketball team knew what was coming in its first round playoff matchup against Duluth. The Wolverines prepared as well as they could, taking the week before the game to drill against a full-court press like what the Wildcats would run. 

But on Saturday, an unpleasant reality became clear quickly: Duluth was quicker, bouncier, more athletic than West could have possibly replicated. And the Wildcats weren't missing shots, either. Adam Flagler drilled three three-pointers within the first 90 seconds of the game, and the rout was underway. 

"Our keys coming into the game were we had to rebound, which we didn't do very well, and we had to take care of the ball against their press, which we didn't do very well," West head coach Fred Hurt said.

The Wildcats had amassed a 20-point lead by the end of the first quarter, and midway through the second, the advantage was up to 38-9. West gained ground after that, but not enough to significantly threaten a comeback.  Duluth went on to win 80-55, ending the Wolverines' season at 16-13. 

The teams' playoff seeds -- West was a No. 2, while Duluth was No. 3 -- wasn't indicative of how the teams stacked up. The Wildcats came out of Region 6-7A, one of the most competitive and deep regions in the state, and had a GHSA power rating more than a point higher than West's heading into the game. 

West's lack of execution on Saturday exacerbated that gap, and that left the Wolverines disappointed after the game. But Hurt also reminded his team of the positives from the year, like the completion of the first winning season in the history of the program and the dramatic improvement shown throughout: West entered the region schedule with a losing record, and the Wolverines wound up going 7-3 against those opponents and finishing as runner-up in the region tournament. 

"Right now, I'm sad that it's over, because it's my senior year," said wing Michael Zabetakis. "But when I look back on it, I'm sure I'll be proud."

Joseph Staiti had 17 points to lead West, Broc Bidwell had 12, and Zabetakis had 11. Will Huzzie led Duluth with 22, and Flagler had 20.