When it comes to basketball state playoffs, No. 4 seeds rarely upset No. 1 seeds on the road in the opening round, but apparently someone forgot to tell that to the West Hall boys team.
The fourth-seeded Spartans traveled to Southeast Whitfield Saturday night and stunned the Raiders on their own court with a 76-75 win to advance to the second round of the state tournament. The victory sets up another away game in the second round, this one a meeting with Cartersville on Thursday at 7 p.m.
“Our guys just really fed off of being the underdogs and having their backs against the wall,” West Hall coach Bobby Pless said. “It was nice to see that. It was a great atmosphere.”
The Southeast Whitfield home section — situated right behind the visiting team’s bench — was full and rowdy according to Pless, but that didn’t stop the Spartans from remaining calm and collected in the biggest moments.
West Hall guard Sawyer Passmore stepped to the free throw line clinging to a two-point lead with less than 10 seconds to play, and he buried both shots — despite the roaring of the crowd — to put the game out of reach.
The moment exemplified the fourth quarter as a whole. Passmore and fellow guard Noah Edmondson combined to make 14 of 16 free throws, staying calm in the face of a number of Southeast Whitfield runs and holding the Raiders off to the very end of the game.
The consistent play of West Hall’s guards — Passmore, Edmondson and Braden Martin — was a major key for the Spartans in staying ahead for much of the game, according to Pless.
“We got good balance from our guards tonight,” he said.
The trio combined for 57 points on the night, with Edmondson leading the way with 26.
And while those three players handled much of the scoring, West Hall thrived on effort plays and strong rebounding. Pless said the players who didn’t show up in the box score were equally vital to the winning effort as the top scorers.
“We just battled on the boards and kept scrapping,” he said. “Southeast played really well. They’re a good team. They were a tough out, which we knew they would be. We were able to hold on there at the end.”
Pless said the bulk of his efforts this week have been on “taking care of (Southeast Whitfield),” so his scouting report on the Hurricanes is still a bit of a work in progress. But as the team goes deeper into playoffs, Pless knows the game won’t be getting any easier.
“(Cartersville is) going to be athletic,” he said. “They play really good defense. They rebound well. We’re going to have to go on the road again, and we’re going to have to do a good job containing them the best we can off the glass and also in transition.”