Given all the big names on hand, the Westhill boys basketball team did not carry high expectations into last week's Bottar-Leone Holiday Classic at Christian Brothers Academy.
Yet when all the festivities were done on Wednesday night, the Warriors were holding the first-place trophy, having reached that summit in the most exciting way possible.
First, Westhill had erased a 17-point second-half deficit to stun St. Peter's 44-42 as Dan Ross hit the game-winning shot with 1.8 seconds left.
Then, as a heavy underdog in Wednesday night's championship game against Albany CBA, the Warriors hung in the whole way through and, with Mike McMullen's clutch free-throw shooting, stunned the Brothers 59-57 to earn the tournament championship.
Of the two games, the win over Albany CBA carried more weight, and not just because it was the final. Albany CBA was unbeaten at 7-0, was the defending Section II Class AA champions, and had risen to no. 8 in the state AA rankings. It had also just beaten Syracuse CBA 51-40 in the tournament's opening round, avenging last year's regional final loss.
Westhill showed no fear, though, and asserted its case in a wild, fast-paced first quarter where both sides rang up baskets. When the buzzer sounded, the Warriors had a 21-20 lead.
To prove it wasn't a fluke, Westhill displayed its best defense in the second period and, in the process, expanded its lead to 36-30.
Albany CBA was far from done, though. It held Westhill to seven points in the third quarter, erased its deficit, and soon was engaged in another tense battle as the minutes ticked down.
To stay close, the Warriors relied, as usual, on senior forward Dan Ross, who put in 16 points, but the real surprise was seeing Nathan Nigolian come off the bench to earn 13 points.