The West Forsyth girls’ basketball team felt the moment slipping away. With under a minute left, the Lady Wolverines’ double-digit lead over Alpharetta had diminished to just two points, point guard Conner Parker had fouled out and two other starters had four fouls. West’s hopes of securing a spot in the state tournament, and a potential rematch with rival North Forsyth in the Region 6-AAAAAA tournament semifinals, were tenuous.
In front of the home crowd, West center Jenna Staiti swatted a potential game-tying lay-up, a block that invigorated the stands and the Lady Wolverines enough to spur them to a 56-51 victory over Alpharetta to secure a spot in the state tournament.
West (17-8) advanced to the region tournament semifinals where it will be play the Johns Creek-North Forsyth winner Monday.
“[The block] got us all pumped up,” Staiti said. “I mean, you had a freshman like Carsen Parker saying, ‘Let’s finish this,’ after that. It was real big.”
West struggled to finish against Alpharetta. When the Lady Wolverines went up 20-7 with 4:00 left in the second quarter, the Lady Raiders went on a 16-4 run to cut the lead to 24-23 at halftime. When West went up 45-35 with 5:14 left in the fourth quarter, Alpharetta again cut it close to 52-50 with 1:31 left in the game.
Both times Alpharetta employed a full-court pressure defense that flummoxed West. Twice the Lady Wolverines turned the ball over on five-second violations trying to inbound the ball. West committed seven turnovers in the third quarter alone.
“We couldn’t break down mentally,” Staiti said. “That’s what we might do in the past, but in this tournament that wouldn’t work for us.”
The Lady Wolverines persevered. Even when Alpharetta’s frenetic defense altered the game’s pace in the Lady Raiders’ favor. Even when West was at a disadvantage in fouls with Conner Parker (nine points) fouled out and Carsen Parker (eight rebounds) and Abby Quincy (nine points) with four fouls.
Coming out of halftime up just one, Staiti went to work scoring 12 of her game-high 26 points. In the closing seconds, Quincy made 5 of 6 free throws and West played sound defense.
“I thought we did a good job of weathering the storm,” West coach David May said. “It wasn’t pretty, and that’s going to happen when you have so many young kids out there like we do, but we made the defensive stops and made the plays when we needed them.”
When it was done, the Lady Wolverines sat at desks inside May’s classroom and thought aloud about might be ahead in the region tournament. That wasn’t the case last season when West went 9-17 and missed the state tournament in May’s first season.
Saturday’s win was just the latest punctuation mark in West’s impressive turnaround.
“It feels good,” May said. “This was a good step for our program.”