If the West Genesee boys basketball team wanted to enter the short list of Section III Class AA championship contenders, it needed to take full advantage of the opportunity offered to them last weekend.
In less than 24 hours, the Wildcats would play two Class AA state-ranked opponents -- first Fayetteville-Manlius, then Utica Proctor. When it all was done, WG had a split, but had to feel good about the way it stood up to the challenge.
This gauntlet began last Friday night, in Camillus, when the Wildcats lured F-M (no. 25 state ranking) out of the notorious comfort zone of its home court and, propelled by the hot hand of senior Chris Cruz, beat the Hornets 61-56.
When F-M arrived, it did so as one of the area's hottest teams, having stunned both Utica Proctor and Henninger in back-to-back games when both foes occupied spots in the state top 10.
But those games were at F-M. This was on the road, in front of the loud, boisterous "Wildcat Nation", as WG attempted to keep the Hornets from clinching the OHSL Colonial American division title.
Most of the first half was tightly bunched, but the Wildcats took the lead for good late in the second quarter and, when Casey Reale drained a 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer, WG had a 33-27 lead.
Little had changed late in the third period when Cruz put things away. Already, he had 18 points on the night, staying aggressive and getting open even though F-M's defense knew it had to stop him.
Now, with the game still in doubt, Cruz hit two huge 3-pointers, turning a modest margin into a 47-37 lead at the end of the third period. F-M never got too close again.
"We just mastered all our plays, and we didn't make a lot of mistakes," said Cruz.