The signs of an impending meltdown were all around for the West Forsyth boys basketball team. With the Wolverines leading Lambert 73-66 with two minutes left to play on Friday night, sophomore wing Joseph Staiti rose for a wide-open layup on the right side of the basket.
The ball slipped out of Staiti's hand and missed the rim entirely. Lambert dashed to the other end of the floor, where Mitch Ganote hit a three-pointer for the Longhorns. Then West guard Terrence Taylor was called for a charge, giving the ball back to the Longhorns. The feeling that another game was slipping away late began to creep up on the Wolverines bench and head coach Fred Hurt.
"A bunch of the guys were like, 'Oh no, here we go again,'" Hurt said. "But two seconds later, they got right back to playing hard."
West didn't let its youth and inexperience in late-game situations win on Friday, instead withstanding Lambert's charge and pulling out an 80-77 victory over the Longhorns, jostling a Region 5-7A title race that looked to be slanted clearly in Lambert's favor.
Lambert's style features fast play and a quick trigger on open shots, and West came out determined to match that. The Wolverines led 24-21 after the first quarter and 41-34 at halftime, with Ganote's stint on the bench due to foul trouble and an abrupt cold spell hurting the Longhorns.
"We came out and punched them in the mouth before they could (get) us," Staiti said. "And just kept going."
Staiti, meanwhile, took a large chunk of West's offensive production for himself in the first half, scoring 12 points in the first quarter and seven more in the second. Staiti's pace slowed in the second half, but a strong performance after the break from freshman guard Broc Bidwell helped the Wolverines maintain their production.
Both Hurt and Staiti recognized admitted that the win was an upset: The Longhorns were the only team in the region to carry a winning record into Friday, and the Wolverines were 4-9, albeit with multiple competitive losses.
"Everybody else would definitely see this win as an upset," Hurt said. "Our guys came in believing we had a chance to win, for sure. We hadn't proven we could beat Lambert yet. We've been in every game this year, but we were trying to find out and learn how to win."
But West held on when the momentum looked to be in Lambert's favor. The Longhorns didn't get any points from the possession after Taylor's charge, with the Wolverines stuffing Ganote on a layup attempt off an inbounds play. On the other end, West set up another close look for Staiti, with Taylor offering him a pass in the low post.
This time, Staiti had no trouble finishing.
Lambert girls 55, West 16
In the first game of the night, the Lambert girls team held the Wolverines scoreless in the first quarter on their way to a romp.
Jaleah Greene had 13 points to lead a balanced scoring effort for the Longhorns, who played much of the second half with their starters on the bench. Nicole Toole had 10 points for the Wolverines.