Milton was the only team West Forsyth boys basketball had not solved in region play during the regular season. The Wolverines lost to the Eagles twice — by 3 points on Dec. 15 and 16 points on Jan. 31 — but West was not discouraged by either outcome. In fact, they were eager for another shot.
“We were excited about the chance to play them again,” West head coach Fredrick Hurt said. “We think they’re a very good team. Obviously, they’d beaten us twice, but we wanted to play them again.”
The Wolverines got that opportunity Wednesday in the Region 5-7A semifinals at South Forsyth High School, and they made the most of it with an 81-67 victory to reach the championship game Friday against Lambert, whom West swept during the regular season, at 8:30 p.m.
This meeting was an eerie reversal of West’s second loss to Milton, when the Wolverines played what Hurt called their worst first half of the season. West trailed by 21 at halftime, and though it cut that down to 3 in the fourth quarter, the Eagles pulled away down the stretch.
That loss provided a blueprint for Wednesday. The Wolverines resolved to be aggressive from the start, prevent the Eagles from getting offensive rebounds and contain Milton sophomore guard Christian Wright.
Everything clicked this time. West attacked the basket on offense, forced Milton to take tough shots and held Wright to eight points at halftime. The result was a 43-25 lead.
“We knew we had to come out hard. We knew we had to come out with high energy, and we just had to play our game,” West senior Terrence Taylor said. “When we played them at their home, we didn’t play like ourselves.”
Taylor gave West its largest lead, 53-34, when he made a put-back lay-up in transition in the third quarter. Milton summoned the effort for one last push to get within 67-56 in the fourth quarter, but West held them off with field goals by Mikhari Sibblis and Joseph Staiti and free throws from Broc Bidwell and Michael Zabetakis.
“We didn’t let it phase us,” Zabetakis said about Milton’s comeback attempt, “and we just kept trying to make the right play.”
Taylor led four Wolverines in double-figures with 22 points and 11 rebounds, while Zabetakis had 17 points, six assists and four steals, Staiti scored 15 points and Sibblis added 12 points.
That group was just as shocked as anyone when last year as a 4-win team they upset Forsyth Central in the region tournament to qualify for the state playoffs in Hurt’s first season.
Now, Wednesday’s accomplishments — the program’s first win ever against Milton and first appearance in a region championship — are less surprising.
“We believed in ourselves that we could accomplish what we set out to do, and that’s all that really matters, is that we believe in ourselves,” Zabetakis said.